SAN FRANCISCO -- I was here on a simple quest: curious to know if the inventors of Twitter were as annoying as their invention. -- Maureen Dowd, "To Tweet or Not to Tweet," New York Times, April 22, 2009.
BOSTON --Edgar Allan Poe would love Alexander Graham Bell's workshop here. Pendulums, buzzers, and ticking sounds everywhere, with a mysterious note to the chambermaid in crabbed script. In a droll nod to shifting technologies, there's an 18th-century ear trumpet on the settee, where Mr. Bell evidently left it while in a fog of inventive absentmindedness.
I was here on a simple quest: curious to know if the inventor of the telephone was as loud, intrusive, and soul-destroying as his invention.
I sat down with Mr. Bell, 39, and his assistant Thomas Watson, 22, and asked them to explain why they shouldn't be condemned to a slow, painful death.
ME: The telephone seems like letter-writing without the paper and pen. Is there any message that can't wait for a passenger pigeon?
BELL: Possibly the message I'd like to deliver to you right now.
ME: Did you know you were designing a toy for bored housewives and the indolent rich?
BELL: Actually, I was trying to help deaf people.
ME: I heard about a woman who telephoned her husband to say she was in the throes of childbirth. Whatever happened to private pain?
ME: Why did you think the answer to telegrams was a noisy new telegram?
BELL: We have designed the receiver so you can leave it off the hook.
ME: Why did you call it a "telephone"? That's Greek! Isn't English good enough for you?
BELL: We tried calling it the FarSound, but Watson turned it into a rude joke.
ME: Would Shakespeare have "telephoned"?
WATSON: Perhaps not. But we have it on good report that Abraham Lincoln would.
ME: Was there anything in your childhood that turned you into a loathsome scourge to humanity?
BELL: You mean my mother's deafness, which made me dedicate my life to helping people communicate?
ME: I would rather be flayed alive and gradually guillotined than use a telephone.
BELL: Operators are standing by.
Image from here.