"I was perfectly satisfied to write science fiction knowing that it would pay very little, that it would be seen by only a very few people."
- Isaac Asimov
||Cinematophote (Blue Optic Plate)
||The first reference to a tablet-sized, handheld screen.
This remarkable story predicted not only television and instantaneous visual communication across the earth. It also predicts the couch potato.
|Advanced thinkers, like Vashti, had always held it foolish to visit the surface of the earth. Air-ships might be necessary, but what was the good of going out for mere curiosity and crawling along for a mile or two in a terrestrial motor? The habit was vulgar and perhaps faintly improper: it was unproductive of ideas, and had no connection with the habits that really mattered. So respirators were abolished, and with them, of course, the terrestrial motors, and except for a few lecturers, who complained that they were debarred access to their subject- matter, the development was accepted quietly. Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophote. And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject.
|From The Machine Stops,
by E.M. Forster.
Published by Oxford and Cambridge Review in 1909
Additional resources -
Here's another quote that describes the device in greater detail:
"But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her."
It could be argued that a German engineering student named Paul Nipkow actually invented television in 1884. He patented an electromechanical television system that made use of the idea of scanning an image and transmitting the pieces of the image sequentially. He created the Nipkow disk, a rotating scanning disk camera that placed a rapidly rotating disk between a scene and a light-sensitive selenium element. It was designed with 18 lines of resolution. It is not known whether or not Nipkow actually built a prototype. Electromechanical versions of televisions waited until the early 1900's; electronic systems rendered them obsolete in 1934.
Also, in 1879, an instrument called a telelectroscope was invented; this device transmitted a simple visual scene over phone lines. Here is how it was reported in Scientific American:
We have recently on one or two occasions alluded to the telectroscope invented by M. Senlecq of Ardres. We now have before us some very ingenious and curious applications of selenium, in which its peculiar property of changing its electrical conductivity when exposed to light varying in intensity is utilized. The several devices are the invention of Mr. George R. Carey, of Boston, Mass. Perhaps the most curious of these instruments is the selenium camera obscura, which is capable of transmitting telegraphically an image of any object and making a permanent impression of it at a distant point. In this case a person may sit before the camera in New York while his photograph is made in Boston. Mr. Carey employs two methods of accomplishing the object, one being something like M. Senlecq's, and the other totally different. We hope to present to our readers before long the details of these interesting instruments.
(Thanks to Jim Linwood for suggesting this story.)
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