Dear Mr Bell by Trevor Plumbly

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone

I am assured by some fairly bright folk that an ‘up there’ exists; that being the case, you will probably receive this OK and perhaps ponder on the misfortune you inflicted on us. You are not entirely to blame for the current situation but you did kick things off. History recalls you as a decent bloke, but given to tinkering; unfortunately, like most inventors, in the euphoria of discovery you lost sight of the potential harm you would cause.

The 19th Century heralded the birth of technology and no doubt your telephone was welcomed along with industrial pollution, repeating rifles and the like. Communicating from a distance had merit: it saved the educational ability needed for the written word, plus you could lie through your teeth without being seen to blush, though while that suited commerce, it created social warts that fester to this very day.

My first impressions of the thing as a child were somewhat fearful: it was an object strictly reserved for adult use; as if to emphasise this, in silent mode, it sat, clad in funereal black Bakelite, daring any contact with childish hands. Activated it would provoke an anticipatory moment’s silence, conversations were always terse and always serious, in fact I can’t recall anyone using the dammed thing actually laughing.

In the 1970s place and purpose surrendered to convenience with the introduction of the ‘portable’, followed by that twin horror the ‘cell’ and the ‘smartphone’. Thus plagues of biblical proportions visited in the forms of Facebook, Twitter and Texting. Suddenly the trivia in our daily doings was no longer trivial or private; the need to share was practically mainlined into our thought processes. Adults are unable to venture out without an electronic crutch and children are seemingly lost without some form of face furniture. Educationally, we’re dumbing ourselves down at an alarming rate: previously erudite people scramble to Google to provide intelligence while texting has eviscerated language leaving us with butchered words and symbols. Spam is now an accepted invasion of our daily life along with those roaming our streets taking photos of themselves for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. In closing Mr Bell, I do hope that there are no telephones ‘up there’ to disturb your rest, but at the same time I urge you to reflect on how more pleasant and meaningful life would be now if, on that day in 1876, you’d had the energy to walk next door to speak to a colleague rather than picking up the dammed phone.

Yours most sincerely

Trevor Plumbly




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