The evolution of the phone call

Aside from being arguably one of the biggest tools that have advanced human society as a whole, the telephone is also one of the most controversial. Stemming from Alexander Graham Bell’s registration of the patent being questioned to its correlation to an endemic of phone addiction, there has never been a shortage of faults directed at it.

There’s no denying its use, however.

Approximately 7.26 billion people own smart phones right now. That’s a lot of people making and receiving phone calls everyday! Whether it be for business or for pleasure, the connections they make push humanity forward in all the best ways. So how did we get here?

The first message

On March 10, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell picked up his phone to call his assistant to say “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.”

It’s fascinating how even back at its conception, the purpose of the telephone was rooted on connection and instruction. One can easily argue that Mr. Bell might not have needed his assistant at the time, and that it was purely for show. What matters, however, is that it worked. And it worked well.

Earlier Alternatives

Before the invention of the telephone, people used the following methods to send messages:

  1. Carrier Pigeon
  2. Smoke signals
  3. Message in a bottle
  4. Telegrams
  5. Pony Express
  6. Balloon Mail

These methods were far slower, more likely to fail, and relied on far too many factors that could’ve cost delays or loss of communication entirely. They weren’t reliable. So when the telephone came around, it replaced everything almost instantaneously and would only keep improving to an extent that it would become the daily computer that everybody in the world would carry around in their pockets.

A timeline of important developments

  • 1667: An acoustic string telephone was created by Robert Hook and conveyed sound through mechanical vibrations.
  • 1860: A transmitter designed with a knitting-needle receiver was created by Johann Phillip Reis. Witnesses at the scene noticed voices being transmitted.
  • 1861: Johann Phillip Reis creates a “Reis Telephone” and electronically transfers his voice over 340 feet.
  • 1874: Alexander Graham Bell, conceives his theory of transmitting sound over a patent he’s yet to file while visiting his parents in Canada.
  • 1876: Graham Bell files US Patent №174,465. Within the same year, he sends the first message ever to his assistant, Mr. Watson. By October of the same year, Bell makes the first long-distance telephone call between Boston and Cambridge.
  • 1877: The first office and switchboard system is a established by the Holmes Burglar Company.
  • 1899: The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) purchases the American bell Telephone Company.
  • 1915: The first telephone call made over a distance of 3600 miles (San Francisco to New York).
  • 1926: The first transatlantic call is made between London and New York City.
  • 1927: AT&T makes the first videophone call.
  • 1937: The popular Western Electric type 302 model telephone is released in the United States.
  • 1946: The first commercial call is made on a mobile phone
  • 1965: The first ever electronic switch system is created
  • 1973: The first cellphone was introduced by Motorola. It weighed 4.4 lbs.
  • 1979: Voice over internet protocol (VOIP) is introduced
  • 1983: The last manually-operated switchboard is disabled
  • 1987: The Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is introduced, enabling faster data transfer over copper phone lines.
  • 1992: IBM releases the SPC (Simon Personal Communicator) also known as the first smartphone
  • 1999: The Asterisk Private Branch Exchange is created
  • 2002: Alexander Graham Bell is recognized by the Parliament of Canada as the inventor of the telephone.

The smartphone and the digital revolution

The first ever smartphone was called the Simon Personal Communicator and was released by IBM in 1992. Though far lacking the modern conveniences we enjoy today, it had touch features which were accessed via a stylus. The iPhone and its release in 2007 would later work on perfecting this system and having the ability to connect to the internet.

The advent of the modern smartphone and advancements with internet connectivity has uprooted the way we all run our business and personal lives on the daily. It’s fascinating how easily we can get used to the idea of wireless technology, without a second thought to its implications and any possible ramifications to our lives. One such implication being constantly available, and how we are necessarily never alone.

There’s this interesting article published about the dangers of always being connected, and offered some insight into possible pros and cons to modern communications.

Some undeniable benefits

As the ability to make and receive phone calls has become an integral part in how modern businesses conduct business, the strides we’ve made in communications have become an indisputable benefit. The introduction of voice over internet protocol (VOIP) especially has allowed us as a species to elevate and push forward the mechanisms of change, making it possible for people to connect easily and for free (mostly).

VOIP is the protocol fueling the rise of modern cloud computing and is a whole industry in itself. The most identifiable names being Skype and Zoom, these companies have made connecting with families easy and accessible. It is also the default for businesses to conduct their call center operations online.

Looking to the future

With the Covid 19 pandemic taking the world by storm, companies all over the world have turned their attention to empowering their workforce and allowing them to run their operations from the comfort of their home. Some would employ a version of a cloud PBX, while others would invest in a call center solution to easily run their customer service operations from anywhere in the world. The best part is that these solutions don’t come at a premium, essentially changing the thinking behind the ways we do business.

With work-from-home mandates potentially staying in place for a long time, we’re looking at a future where employees don’t even have to commute, thereby rendering the idea of an office workplace void and completely unessential. Because why not? We can fundamentally change the world and limit our carbon imprint by staying connected while being home.

And all Mr. Bell needs now when he has to speak to Mr. Watson is to turn on his phone, click an app, and start talking. Welcome to the future.

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