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The greatest invention? It's not a close call

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The greatest invention? It's not a close call

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

What would you list as the most important invention of all time?

Most people would probably say, "the wheel." But I have a different candidate.

I think the telephone is No. 1.

Without the wheel, we could still get around—by plane or boat or on our own two feet. But we could not keep our modern society functioning without the telephone.

But I'm not referring to the "Is-this-the-party-to-whom-I-am-speaking" kind of telephone that you talk to Aunt Sally on. The telephone that ranks at the top of my list is the one that computers use by means of modems.

Without the nearly instant communication provided by telephone lines, computers of all types and sizes—from the Pentagon's basement behemoths to the little Apples in school classrooms—would find nearly all of their work impossible to do.

The changes in communication that are happening all around us constitute a real revolution. Things aren't just different; they're so radically changed that they'll never be the same again.

And yet the train that this revolution is taking has begun to leave the station with most of its likely passengers still standing at the boarding gate. Although computers are now easier to use than ever before, and although modems are absurdly inexpensive, and despite the fact that electronic mail is vastly easier to deal with than envelopes and letters, and regardless of the wealth of software and information available free for a telephone call, most of you apparently are afraid to take that first step from the platform to the train.

I realize that this may seem out of place. This is, after all, a column of news and tips about personal computing, not the editorial page. But that kind of narrow view will keep all of us from seeing what is really happening. Changes that happen slowly—over a period of a decade or so — can be far more important than ones that happen overnight. But they are a lot harder to appreciate, because we steadily become used to them day by day, month by month.

So put that left foot ahead of the right. Step up into the train. There'll be someone there to help you find a seat.

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