Hyping the cellphone, 1909 style


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Most geeks will know of Nikola Tesla: an electrical engineer, he was pretty much the godfather of alternating current and one of the major reasons electricity became a commercially viable power source. He also demonstrated the idea that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly, a theory that today is looking ever closer to practical use.

But now it’s transpired that Tesla was perhaps more of a visionary than anyone realized. The editor of Popular Mechanics, Seth Porges, has recently drawn attention to a 1909 interview by the New York Times in which Tesla predicted the cellphone, texting and picture messaging.

Said Tesla: “It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simple that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus.”

Of course, Tesla’s prediction of “soon” may have been a little ambitious, and even in 2010 his suggestion that the mobile device would be “not bigger than a watch” is pushing it a little for most people’s budgets.

But he was on the money with what were effectively predictions of e-mail (“It will soon be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions and have them appear instantly in type in London or elsewhere.”) and multimedia messaging (“In the same way [as speech and music] any kind of picture, drawing or print can be transferred from one place to another.”)

To be fair, Tesla wasn’t entirely accurate throughout the interview: he also believed ocean liners would travel at high speed across the Atlantic but be controlled wirelessly from the shore.

But he did make a statement which remains true today: “What will be accomplished in the future baffles one’s comprehension.”





7 Responses to Hyping the cellphone, 1909 style

  1. Forget wirelessly controlled ocean liners. How bout wirelessly controlled airplanes – aka UAVs. That’s not far off his prediction.

  2. Forget wirelessly controlled ocean liners. How bout wirelessly controlled airplanes – aka UAVs. That’s not far off his prediction.

  3. Forget wirelessly controlled ocean liners. How bout wirelessly controlled airplanes – aka UAVs. That's not far off his prediction.

  4. I love the Victorian belief in the future. It makes reading penny sci-fi novels that much more fascinating.

  5. I love the Victorian belief in the future. It makes reading penny sci-fi novels that much more fascinating.

  6. Consider that he would have been thinking of a pocket watch, not a wrist watch. My cell phone’s barely bigger than a pocket watch when folded.

  7. Consider that he would have been thinking of a pocket watch, not a wrist watch. My cell phone's barely bigger than a pocket watch when folded.