Story type: Literature
Little did B. Franklin wot when he baited his pin hook with a good conductor and tapped the low browed and bellowing storm nimbus with his buoyant kite, thus crudely acquiring a pickle jar of electricity, that the little start he then made would be the egg from which inventors and scientists would hatch out the system which now not only encircles the globe with messages swifter than the flight of Phoebus, but that anon the light of day would be filtered through a cloud of cables loaded with destruction sufficient for a whole army, and the air be filled with death-dealing, dangling wires.
Little did he know that he was bottling an agent which has since pulled out the stopper with its teeth and grown till it overspreads the sky, planting its bare, bleak telegraph poles along every highway, carrying day messages by night and night messages when it gets ready, filling the air with its rusty wings–provided, of course, that such agents wear wings–and with the harsh, metallic, ghoulish laughter of the signal-key, all the while resting one foot on the neck of the sender and one on the neck of the recipient, defying aggregated humanity to do its worst, and commanding all civilization, in terse, well-chosen terms, to either fish, cut bait or go ashore.
Could Benjamin have known all this at the time, possibly he might have considered it wisdom to go in when it rained.
I am not an old fogy, though I may have that appearance, and I rejoice to see the world move on. One by one I have laid aside my own encumbering prejudices in order to keep up with the procession. Have I not gradually adopted everything that would in any way enhance my opportunities for advancement, even through tedious evolution, from the paper collar up to the finger bowl, eyether, and nyether?
This should convince the reader that I am not seeking to clog the wheels of progress. I simply look with apprehension upon any great centralization of wealth or power in the hands of any one man who not only does as he pleases with said wealth and power, but who, as I am informed, does not read my timely suggestions as to how he shall use them.
To return, however, to the subject of electricity. I have recently sought to fathom the style and motif of a new system which is to be introduced into private residences, hotels, and police headquarters. In private houses it will be used as a burglar’s welcome. In hotels it will take the mental strain off the bell-boy, relieving him also of a portion of his burdensome salary at the same time. In the police department it will do almost everything but eat peanuts from the corner stands.
I saw this system on exhibition in a large room, with the signals or boxes on one side and the annunciator or central station on the other. By walking from one to the other, a distance in all of thirty or forty miles, I was enabled to get a slight idea of the principle.
It is certainly a very intelligent system. I never felt my own inferiority any more than I did in the presence of this wonderful invention. It is able to do nearly anything, it seems to me, and the main drawback appears to be its great versatility, on account of which it is so complex that in order to become at all intimate with it a policeman ought to put in two years at Yale and at least a year at Leipsic. An extended course of study would perfect him in this line, but he would not then be content to act as a policeman. He would aspire to be a scientist, with dandruff on his coat collar and a far-away look in his eye.
Then, again, take the hotel scheme, for instance. We go to a dial which is marked Room 32. There we find that by treating it in a certain way it will announce to the clerk that Room 32 wants a fire, ice-water, pens, ink, paper, lemons, towels, fire-escape, Milwaukee Sec, pillow-shams, a copy of this book, menu, croton frappe, carriage, laundry, physician, sleeping-car ticket, berth-mark for same, Halford sauce, hot flat-iron for ironing trousers, baggage, blotter, tidy for chair, or any of those things. In fact, I have not given half the list on this barometer because I could not remember them, though I may have added others which are not there. The message arrives at the office, but the clerk is engaged in conversation with a lady. He does not jump when the alarm sounds, but continues the dialogue. Another guest wires the office that he would like a copy of the Congressional Record. The message is filed away automatically, and the thrilling conversation goes on. Then No. 7-5/8 asks to have his mail sent up. No. 25 wants to know what time the ‘bus leaves the house for the train going East, and whether that train will connect at Alliance, Ohio, with a tide-water train for Cleveland in time to catch the Lake Shore train which will bring him into New York at 7:30, and whether all those trains are reported on time or not, and if not will the office kindly state why? Other guests also manifest morbid curiosity through their transmitters, but the clerk does not get excited, for he knows that all these remarks are filed away in the large black walnut box at the back of the office. When he gets ready, provided he has been through a course of study in this brand of business, he takes one room at a time, and addressing a pale young “Banister Polisher” by the name of “Front,” he begins to scatter to their destinations, baggage, towels, morning papers, time-tables, etc., all over the house.
It is also supposed to be a great time-saver. For instance, No. 8 wants to know the correct time. He moves an indicator around like the combination on a safe, reads a few pages of instructions, and then pushes a button, perhaps. Instead of ringing for a boy and having to wait some time for him, then asking him to obtain the correct time at the office and come back with the information, conversing with various people on his way and expecting compensation for it, the guest can ask the office and receive the answer without getting out of bed. You leave a call for a certain hour, and at that time your own private gong will make it so disagreeable for you that you will be glad to rise. Again, if you wish to know the amount of your bill, you go through certain exercises with the large barometer in your room; and, supposing you have been at the house two days and have had a fire in your room three times, and your bill is therefore $132.18, the answer will come back and be announced on your gong as follows: One, pause, three, pause, two, pause, one, pause, eight. When there is a cipher in the amount I do not know what the method is, but by using due care in making up the bill this need not occur.
For police and fire purposes the system shows a wonderful degree of intelligence, not only as a speedy means of conveying calls for the fire department, health department, department of street cleaning, department of interior and good of the order, but it furnishes also a method of transmitting emergency calls, so that no citizen–no matter how poor or unknown–need go without an emergency. The citizen has only to turn the crank of the little iron marten-house till the gong ceases to ring, then push on the “Citizens’ button,” and he can have fun with most any emergency he likes. Should he decide, however, to shrink from the emergency before it arrives, he can go away from there, or secrete himself and watch the surprise of the ambulance driver or the fire department when no mangled remains or forked fire fiend is found in that region.
This system is also supposed to keep its eye peeled for policemen and inform the central station where each patrolman is all the time; also as to his temperature, pulse, perspiration and breath. It keeps a record of this at the main office on a ticker of its own, and the information may be published in the society columns of the papers in the morning. It enables a citizen to use his own discretion about sounding an alarm. He has only to be a citizen. He need not be a tax-payer or a vox populi. Should he be a citizen, or declare his intention to become such, or even though he be a voter only, without any notion of ever being a citizen, he can help himself to the fire department or anything else by ringing up the central station.
Electricity and spiritualism have arrived at that stage of perfection where a coil of copper wire and a can of credulity will accomplish a great deal. The time is coming when even more surprising wonders will be worked, and with electric wires, the rapid transit trains, and the English sparrows all under the ground, the dawn of a better and brighter day will be ushered in. The car-driver and the truck-man will then lie down together, Boston will not rise up against London, he that heretofore slag shall go forth no more for to slug, and the czar will put aside his tailor-made boiler-iron underwear and fearlessly canvass the nihilist wards in the interest of George Kennan and reform, nit.
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