Foresight and Hindsight: The Case of the Telephone
This chapter considers the period from 1876 until World War II, to ascertain how people perceived and foresaw the social effects of the telephone. By taking advantage of hindsight in 1976, one can ask which forecasts were good, which went askew, and why. In 1878, a letter from Alexander Graham Bell in London to the organizers of the new Electronic Telephone Company outlines his thoughts on the orientation of the company. Hindsight induces a jaundiced view of the forecasts that saw the telephone defeating crime. Such prognoses were not made by developers of the telephone system, nor by law enforcement experts, but rather by journalists and reformers. To evaluate the forecast record on the telephone's social effects, people have looked at writings by journalists, historians, and sociologists. Quantity, however, is not the key thing; more disturbing is that historians, social scientists, journalists, and current commentators have given people very few significant forecasts or analyses on the telephone's social effects.