Edison’s Telephonscope (Transmits Light as Well as Sound). George DuMaurier. Source: The 9 December 1878 issue of Punch reprinted in the 1879 Punch Almanack. Courtesy of the Internet Archive. [Click on image to enlarge it.] Caption continues:

(Every evening, before going to bed, Pater- and Materfamilias set up an electric camera-obscura over their bedroom mantle-piece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of the Children at the Antipodes, and converse with them through the wire.)

Beatrice (from Ceylon): — “Yes, Papa Dear.”

Paterfamilias (in Wilton Place: — “Beatrice, come closer, I want to whisper.”

Paterfamilias: — “Who is that charming young women on Charlie’s side?”

Beatrice: — “She’s just come over from England, Papa. I'll introduce you to her as soon as the Game’s over?”

This fascinating prediction of now-common twenty-first century technology interests and amuses us today (2017) because of how many things it gets right and how many wrong: First of all, the Punch cartoonist, who is mocking contemporary utopian expectations of information technology, actually manages to describe Skype, FaceTime, and other forms of by-now quite common information technology and the uses to which we put it. Nonetheless, the cartoon not surprisingly gets a few things wrong: we do not use the late-nineteenth-century trumpet-shaped predecessor of the microphone; in fact microphones used for Skype are hidden inside laptops and smart phones. At the same time, most users of contemporary technology use far smaller screens, though in fact one can easily connect laptops to large-screened television sets. Few people bother to do so.

Then, of course, one immediately notices all inaccurate social and political assumptions, the most obvious of which, perhaps, is that Ceylon, which is no longer part of the British Empire, now calls itself Sri Lanka. In 2017 no woman would think of playing tennis or engaging in similar athletic exercise while wearing a long dress and bonnet, and her male companion would not wear a sport jacket either. And fireplaces in London homes longer burn coal.

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Last modified 24 November 2015