The one depends upon the other

Well, so much for writing a day ahead. Anyways, here’s what we’re talking about today:

Topic #270:

… How would you compare the importance of electricity with the invention of the internet? or the cell phone? Can this kind of comparison be made? If you had to lose one of these inventions, which would you keep? And why?

Strictly speaking I don’t think such a comparison can be meaningfully made, but that’s no fun so let’s do it anyway.

Electricity is a natural phenomenon, one required by the laws of physics that our universe works within, and one that our own bodies make use of. Not only are the technologies mentioned dependent on it, if you were to magically remove electricity we’d all drop dead, so I’m calling that the most important!

But it seems more in keeping with the spirit of the question to assume it means the infrastructure we’ve created to run handy electrical devices at home. That puts us in a strange position, because it was adopted so much earlier than the others. The world was really a different place and it’s difficult to say how much of that was directly influenced by it. I do think it’s interesting that the first really world-changing electrical technology was that ancestor of the internet: the telegraph. It’s easy to forget that before that people had to carry messages to their destinations. But that wasn’t really a part of having electricity in your home, as far as I can tell in the beginning that was only used for lights. I say “only” like having artificial light isn’t a big deal, but however incredibly useful there were already many other ways to produce it.

Cell phones feel pretty obvious compared to the others, I mean they’re really just a synthesis of telephone networks & radio, technologies that were old long before anyone had batteries up to the needs of practical cell phones. If nothing else having pocket communication did change one thing forever: horror stories. Isolation is a major part of horror, and those pesky phones need to be taken out right away! Which highlights the incredibly big change cell phones have made: personal safety. The ability to call for help right away has certainly made a a difference.

Finally, the internet. It was game-changing right out of the gate.  Just like the telegraph before it the internet has impacted the world in ways nobody expected. Tactics that worked for centuries have to be modified to cope with the thing. We likely still aren’t fully aware of the ways it’s changed the world, and it’s not done yet.

I’m having trouble deciding just how to interpret “important” in that question. I think in terms of dramatically changing society the internet probably comes out on top, at least if you count the sort of smartphone software that uses the internet. But of course you always have to remember that both internet and mobile phones depend on the electrical infrastructure. In the long run they are subsets of the ongoing impact of widely available electricity. Bah.

I suppose if I could have some sort of magic computer & cell phone that didn’t need electricity, I could live comfortably washing my clothes & dishes by hand, keeping my food in an icebox, reading by candles or gaslamps. Remembering to wind the clocks. I’d miss the fans in the summer. But that’s silly, because I almost never use my cell phone, and I’ve only had it since the end of August. So I’ll keep my internet first, and then the thousand little conveniences of home electricity. The cell phone is handy in emergencies, but otherwise I can take it or leave it, really.

Ta ta for now.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on October 7, 2011, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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