Home Opinion and Features Oh, if only ‘Old Alex’ had quit

Oh, if only ‘Old Alex’ had quit


GREY MUTTER: Has anyone else noticed how telephones have taken over our lives? I bore even myself these days when I rant about people who drive their cars, taxis, trucks, delivery motorcycles and even bicycles in traffic, either talking into, or texting on their mobile devices.

The writer laments the fact that telephones have completely replaced the art of letter writing. Picture: Pixabay

ALEXANDER Graham Bell’s journey from multiple failures to eventual success is encapsulated in his famous quote: “After innumerable failures I finally uncovered the principle for which I was searching, and I was astounded at its simplicity.

“The principle I revealed not only proved beneficial in constructing a mechanical hearing aid but also served as well as means of sending the sound of the voice over a wire.”

Bell’s dogged, stubborn, pioneering spirit made him a trailblazer in the telecommunications industry.

Personally, I find myself wondering sometimes if it would not have been better if ‘Old Alex’ was a quitter. I always tend to wonder, though Bell may have contributed to making communication more efficient, did he help make it better?

Some would say, “Yes, definitely” …

But think about it; is it only me, or has anyone else noticed how telephones have taken over our lives? I bore even myself these days when I rant about people who drive their cars, taxis, trucks, delivery motorcycles and even bicycles in traffic, either talking into, or texting on their mobile devices.

Now someone may smirk and say that it’s not Bell who we have to thank for the mobile phone, but I would argue that if he hadn’t started the ball rolling, Martin Cooper could have applied his energies elsewhere. And don’t get me started on Eric MC Tigerstedt.

Anyway, all I am saying is that I think I, personally, would have been a bit happier if telephones and telephone calls were more rare than they are.

Admittedly, sometimes it’s important to use the telephone. I get important calls every week. But what I find acceptable about the important calls I get, is that they are short, businesslike, work-related and to the point. That’s fine.

Also, phone calls to family members and loved-ones many miles away are a vital way of keeping in touch – such calls are precious.

However, what Mr Bell, Mr Cooper and Mr Tigerstedt failed to take into account is that one day introverts – I won’t mention names – would cringe at the sound of a ringing device.

When my phone rings, and it’s not a loved-one or work-related, the first thoughts that come to mind – no matter who calls me – are, “Oh, dear, I wonder how long this is going to take” … followed by, “What if I run out of things to say and there’s ‘dead air’ on this call?”

I must say that though telephones are efficient, I do miss writing letters. But these days people no longer have the patience, time or energy to write or read several pages of handwritten sentiments. Letter-writing is outdated and slow, but it was something incredibly special that I believe will never happen in our country again.

You see, the South African Post Office has been facing significant challenges in recent years. Despite receiving around R8 billion in bailouts since 2014, it is teetering on the brink of a possible collapse and could be facing bankruptcy; though some efforts are being made to rejuvenate and revive it.

But today, even if I were to write letters, they would not be delivered. How can I be so sure? Well, five years ago, just out of pure sentimentality, I wrote a couple of letters to some friends.

I wrote three pages to each friend, purchased and addressed the envelopes – by hand – licked and affixed the required postage stamps (do you remember licking postage stamps?) and waited to see how long it would take for two letters to be transferred from one branch of our city’s post office to another.

Sadly, it’s been five years and the letters were never delivered.

The tears streamed down my cheeks on that day when I realised that I would never lick another postage stamp.

But I cheered up slightly and was encouraged this past week, when I was approaching the tiny traffic circle at the intersection of Jan Smuts Boulevard and Jubilee Street, at the southern end of the formerly impressive Oppenheimer Gardens.

I looked up and there, at the Sol Plaatje municipal offices, high, high up on a flagpole was – I could almost swear – a postage stamp proudly flapping in the wind.

OK, I am being a bit naughty, but the country’s flag at the municipal offices is comically small; it’s not a criticism, just an observation.

Anyway, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that it seems like the art of letter writing is dead, and we are doomed to the endless bombardment of text messages, voice-notes, telephone calls and a plethora of forwarded videos and picture messages … all because one man couldn’t quit when things got a bit tough.

That, by the way, should be a flashing green light for any struggling entrepreneur.

Just think about it, one day, decades from now, a columnist could be sitting at his keyboard lamenting your stubbornness.

Now, would that not be something special?

For the Record:

Martin Cooper (born 1928) The American engineer who led the team that in 1972-73 built the first mobile cellphone, and is widely regarded as the father of the cellular phone.

Eric Magnus Campbell Tigerstedt (1887 – 1925) invented the mobile phone, for which he in 1917 successfully filed a patent. The patent was granted to Tigerstedt for what he described as a “pocket-size folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone”.

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