Social Question

J0E's avatar

Do you think some things get invented out of order?

Asked by J0E (13136points) October 28th, 2009

I think it’s weird how texting is becoming popular after cell phones were mainstream. If you think about it it seems like first we would have been texting. Then an amazing new technology that allowed us to speak directly to a person would have been introduced. Instead it went something like this:

telegraph>standard mail>telephone>email>instant messaging>cell phone>texting

The history of communication is so out of whack. We went from instant morse code messages, then a step back to pony delivered mail, then forward to the telephone, a step back to email, then forward again to IM, then cell phones, and now (in my opinion) a step back to texting. What is going on?

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20 Answers

tedibear's avatar

@J0E – I have no answer for you on this, but gave you a GQ for the question!

Grisaille's avatar

Not at all.

We wanted to communicate, so we invented the telegraph. Then standard mail that didn’t cost your horse and farm to send. We made those.

Realizing that that was a chore (and wanted to actually listen to the receiver), we invented the telephone.

When talking became a chore, we invented email. It allowed us to send electronic messages vast distances without having to stay and talk on the phone, therefore devoting all of your time on one action.

Becoming an increasingly self-gratificating, indulgent society, we invented instant messaging.

Cellular technology was invented before email, if I’m not mistaken. Either satellite or “hopper” antennas, I believe that it’s been around for some time, but not commercially available til much later.

Finally, we became scatterbrained and, again, increasingly reliant on instant gratification. Hello, texting and Twitter. We want it now, as effortlessly and as brief as possible.

Yay, us.

J0E's avatar

@Grisaille How is texting and Twitter instant gratification? You have to wait around and check every other second to see if someone replied.

samflash's avatar

Fascinating question and one that I have thought about a lot. I seem to have an inventive mind and one that has seasonal times for coming up with ideas. Some of these ideas are briliant others… well what can you say. Sometimes I will get two or three a day other times I wont come up with anything for months on end. Some ideas are very strong and they sort of haunt me for anything up to years.

After years of this happening to me I have realised that the universe seem to have some greater plan for when things are to appear in the world. It feels like a giant repository of ideas that is allowed to be unleashed at any one time, e.g. I come up with a new invention/business idea and if I don’t do something about it, within a period of time the universe tends to push that idea out for others to develop it and make it reality. I suppose other times, based on the adage of, necessity is the mother of invention, we see a need and Voila a new invention is created. Perhaps before its time and it will only really become a mainstream accepted thing when the time it right. Sometimes, some of my inventions that I do nothing about still haven’t appeared and still haunt me. This makes me wonder whether some ideas or just not ready yet or perhaps or never meant to become. Then again, everything in the universe can be used for a negative or positive so it makes no difference if they are created or not. If only I knew how to access funding and right good snappy business plans I’d be on my way to be a millionaire.

J0E's avatar

@samflash Thank you, and I’m honored you created an account just so you can answer this question.

Grisaille's avatar

@J0E How is it not instant gratification? Some waiting is expected, in all media of conversation. It’s instant, when someone sends you a text, you don’t have to wait a week for it to show up via mail. Same thing with Twitter.

J0E's avatar

it’s not instant gratification because it doesn’t take an instant to happen. I can send someone a text and if they don’t have their device on it could take all day for me to get a reply. I’m not saying it’s any different than a phone, but it isn’t an efficient way of communicating.

samflash's avatar

Funny enough in relation to texting, it actually was never invented as texting. It came about as it was used by service centres to relay messages. It then was expanded to text between networks and that is when it really took off. It came about more by accident than any planned invention. Its an offshoot invention. That might explain its out of sorts sort of feel :)

Grisaille's avatar

But you’re introducing an external variable into the scenario which is unfair to the service itself, or at least speaking of the service itself. Calling it inefficient is a perfectly reasonable argument, but that isn’t the point: when I mean instant gratification, I’m not speaking of just a time frame. I’m speaking about availability and relative ease of function. Twitter and text messaging are nearly standard for the past few generation of phones; texting even longer than that.

If I want to use it, it’s there, instantly. If someone sends me a message, it is available there, instantly. If I want to check CNN’s latest twitter update, it’s available there, instnatly.

J0E's avatar

So (excluding the device being off) how is that any different than voice communication over a phone?

nxknxk's avatar

Snapple Facts tell me the can opener was invented 48 years after the can.

J0E's avatar

@nxknxk That actually is in order, it shouldn’t have been invented before the can.

nxknxk's avatar


Haha I know, but I’m drinking a Snapple and looking at the lid and it seemed obliquely appropriate to the question because it did take a while for the can opener to come around.

J0E's avatar

@nxknxk It sure would have been funny though:

“I call it the Can Opener, it will open cans with ease!”
“What the hell’s a can?”

Grisaille's avatar

@J0E Voice communication generally requires full effort, and as I said above, we’ve become increasingly scatterbrained.

I almost wrote “increasingly can opener.” dammit

galileogirl's avatar

@J0E Major flaws in your proposition. Discovery and inventions do not progress on a single path. Ideas progress dowm almost unlimited avenues, sometimes crossing, sometimes with different purposes, sometimes arising in different parts of the globe.

As for your question about the telegraph (morse code was invented for the telegraph but telegraphic communication was the point, not a particular code) vs pony express. The idea was fast communication over long distances. Though the telegraph is obviously a superior method, it had drawbacks. There needed to be an extensive infrastructure which took almost 100 years to coalesce into a single system that was in most cities and towns. Fifteen years after the 1st commercial lines between NYC and DC there were vast areas of the country that neesded rapid communication and the pony express was an attempt to meet that need. It came from a different group of entrpeeneurs entirely, not as an offshoot of the telegraph.

Email and IM’s are not a direct and singular descendents of the telephone. You seem to have skipped the computer entirely. The computer was invented for mathematical purposes and has antecedents in the abacus, automatic Roman counters and the Jacquard loom. To communicate the answers to calculations, a printing function was developed and eventually, using the typewriter keyboard, developed word processing programs. The compute which started out as a room sized device by 1990 had shrung to a portable device

Meanwhile the telephone was proceeding along an entirely different path from a large box attached to the wall to smaller sleeker versions attached by wires to an unattached egg carton size in the early 90’s. In the 90’s the technologies crossed paths and applications that brought all that technological potential together and now we have tiny cell phones that can send written communications (IM) and tiny computers that can send verbal communication and somewhere a new form of camera passed by and gave phones and computers the ability to capture and transmit images.

To get a better idea of the the process and synergy in general view the Connections series by James Burke on DVD.

grumpyfish's avatar

Notably, before cell phones became mainstream, there were pagers that let you send full text mesages TO people, and they could respond (generally with short pre-set replies)

And I would have to say it never really progressed linearly. When e-mail came about, we didn’t just stop talking on the phone.

hookecho's avatar

Im not 100% if this is true or not but I have read that the cigarette lighter was invented before matches. I’d say thats definatly out of order.

edit: just did some quick research and matches were invented before the lighter, however these early matches needed an existing flame to light them (which kind of defeats the point.) the instant strike match was indeed invented 10 years after the lighter.

grumpyfish's avatar

@hookecho Right, but a self-lighting match is much harder to make (requires some interesting chemistry) than a lighter (which is basically a flint and a wick).

Considering that a lighter is essentially a refinement of the iron-age technology of a flint and steel.

(I actually have a fire starter in a tool bag that’s actually a bar of magnesium and a flint. You shave the magnesium into a little pile next to your kindling, use the flint to ignite the magnesium, which burns HOT and starts the kindling)

nmac's avatar

Innovation (or development) is a constitutive process, and often the technology is “invented” but social-technological progress (if you think of innovation in communications that way) doesn’t necessarily follow in ordered sequence.

Why didn’t we think to invent Micro-blogging when we had Cell Phones and Web, it makes more sense since they both use simple syndication? Sometimes things are abandoned until social provocation wills them forth (and marketing – i.e. Tweet) ...

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