Today, 10th March. Roll back 130 years. 1876. That was when Alexander Graham Bell uttered the words in the title to his assistant Mr Watson, and thereby made what many believe to be the world’s first successful telephone call. Bell’s journal records his response: “To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.”. Here’s the actual entry:
Thanks to the Library of Congress, you can riffle through the rest of the journal here.
I was a kid when I first heard about that call, and it excited me. It still excites me. The ability to transmit speech is a wondrous thing.
That’s why I work for BT. Because I want to work with people who believe that. People who get out of bed believing that the ability to communicate using voice is something special. People who go to bed believing that the ability to communicate using voice is something special.
Every day, when I come in to work, I see this plaque outside the building:
Last summer I visited Bologna for the first time. A beautiful city with miles and miles of porticos, a very pleasant “walking” city that I look forward to revisiting. While I was there, I found out that the city housing the Western world’s oldest university, the city that gave us ragu alla Bolognese and mortadella, also gave us Guglielmo Marconi. So I had to make a point of visiting the university and seeing the library there.
A decade ago, I had the opportunity to invite Marty Cooper to speak to us at an in-house conference. And it excited me to hear about the call he made to Joel Engel, what became the world’s first mobile phone call.
You may get the impression that I was fascinated by wireless when I was a child. You would be right. And I continue to be fascinated by the possibilities afforded us by wireless communications.
There was a time when we had analog image. Take shots using analog film. Develop film. Print film. Sometimes even write something about the photo on the back of the print.
That print was static. It could be enlarged, retouched, altered, shared. But not easily. Today, image is digital. You take a photograph. It’s auto date- and time-stamped, geolocated. A large amount of metadata about the image is made available cheaply. Take a look at this example taken from Ryan Eng’s photostream on Flickr:
If you visit this particular photograph in Flickr, then just under the “taken with a Nikon D90” statement is a link to More Properties. Which gives you this, and more:
That which has happened to image is happening to voice. It’s getting Tivo-ised. You can do things to voice that you could never do before. You can do things with voice that you could never do before. You can do things because of voice that you could never do before.
The possibilities are tremendous. Outcomes that affect our daily lives worldwide. In education, something I’m personally very committed to. In healthcare. In our business processes. And, most importantly, as human beings, as friends, as family. That’s why I wrote the Kernel For This Blog the way I did, years before I joined BT.
People talk to people. As the Cluetrain guys said, markets are conversations.
That’s why I get excited about the world’s first telephone call 130 years later. That’s why I get excited about coming to work. Even though times are hard. Because I have the privilege of working on things that I’m passionate about.
Incidentally, one of the things that excites me is the very ability to do this. Write this post. Link to the references. Publish it to all and sundry. In a readable, shareable, commentable, enrichable form. With tools that allow me to make this post persistent, archivable, searchable, retrievable.
These changes that are taking place, they’re not minor. It’s 38 years since the first e-mail message, 36 years since the first mobile phone call. Yet for many these things are only just embedding into the public consciousness. We still have a long way to go to figure out what can be done with voice as it turns into a digital object, a social object that happens to be digital.
People have been speaking to people for a long time. But now they have tools that extend the possibilities of speech in ways nobody thought of before. And I’m excited to be somewhere where people care about these things. And are talented enough to do something about it.