In 1953, a Telephone-Company Executive Predicts the Rise of Modern Smartphones and Video Calls

We live in the age of the smartphone that surprised many of us. But in all of human history, not a single piece of technology came out of nowhere. Long before smartphones hit the market in the 2000s, those close to the telecommunications industry knew what the most ubiquitous device would eventually look like. “Here is my prophecy: In its ultimate development, the telephone will be worn by the individual, perhaps as we wear a watch today,” said Mark R. Sullivan, director of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, in 1953. “No dialing or equivalent will likely be required, and I think users can see each other while they are talking if they want. Who knows, but it can actually be translated from one language to another? “

Sullivan’s forward-looking words are recorded in the excerpt from the Associated Press article at the beginning of the post. It should be recalled that the speech in question dates from a time when the rotary phone was the most advanced personal communication device in American households.

Just three years earlier, writes Rae Alexandra of KQED, Sullivan “appeared in the San Francisco auditor talking about the latest innovations in telephone technology. The further development, which he was most proud of, was a new device the size of a small typewriter that automatically calculated how long the phone calls lasted. ”So logical, pocket phones with video telephony and translation functions would then be science fiction material for many noticed.

Although Sullivan was born before household electrification, Sullivan himself lived just long enough to see the debut of the first commercial cell phone, Alexandra, “but Sullivan might have seen this development as a step towards his long-ago vision – a sign that each of his 1953 predictions would come true at some point. ”As printed Tacoma news box, the AP article that brought these predictions to the public, was headed “There Will be No Escape from Telephones in the Future,” which sounds even more daunting today – in this very future – than it did almost 70 years ago. But even the visions of actual science fiction are seldom completely undisturbed.

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Colin Marshall lives in Seoul and writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. The book is one of his projects The stateless city: a stroll through 21st century Los Angeles and the video series The city in the cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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