ETEC 540-Research Project 

Invention of The Telephone

Alexander Graham BellAlexander Graham Bell

by Daljinder Kang


The Impact of The Telephone on Society


    "The telephone rings, it jingles our psyches, jangles our nerves.  We are seduced and soothed, rattled and betrayed by it.  Wherever it is-on the desk or street corner, the high seas or highway, in our bathrooms or briefcases-it has, for a machine, an allure like no other" (Gwathmey, Stern,1994).  The telephone is a technology that has become an integral part of our life since it was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell.  The nineteenth century was era of communication revolution when many electronic communication devices were invented.  Postman  states  that the greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the idea of invention itself (Postman, 1992, p42).   The telephone has had a big impact on the world.  Ong claims the telephone has brought us into the age of secondary orality (Ong, 1982, p. 133). In this paper I will examine the telephone as a communication technology and its impact on writing and society .  

 Communication Technology

      The telephone is part of the secondary orality which has many similarities and differences to the oral culture before writing was introduced. The telephone has brought us into orality as it has generated a strong group sense, for listening to the spoken words forms hearers into a group, a true audience .  The size of the group is larger  than that of the primary orality and we have become group minded self-consciously and programmatically (Ong, 1982, p. 133).   Ursula Franklin defines communication technologies as transmittal of a message from a sender to a receiver (Franklin, 1999).  Writing allows the physical separation of the message from the messenger or sender.  In many cases a  sender needs to write a letter and send it through a messenger.  The telephone allows the sender and the receiver to be in direct contact without being physically in each other's presence through a receiver and a transmitter.  The sender and the receiver can be separated by vast distances but their communication is still direct and no interference is required through a messenger.  True communication requires back and forth speaking and listening interaction and then providing a response informed by what has been heard (Franklin, 1999).  One aspect that is lacking from communication through a telephone is a face to face interaction which allows the interpretation of body language.  This is the main difference between oral communication and  electronic communication.  We also need to remember that the telephone can facilitate misrepresentation and fraudulent schemes just as oral people can be dishonest.   Telephone can be used to send a message such as "I love you" or "you still owe me ten bucks" without anyone hearing (Franklin, 1999).

Telephone's impact on Society

The telephone is an all purpose tool. It is used in the home, business and in education. It is a source of entertainment and a vital resource to the illiterate as well as the academic elite. When the telephone was first introduced it could only be afforded by the rich as the materials needed for connection were very expensive (Pool, 1977). Alexander Graham's wish was to reduce the expense of materials so that the poorest man cannot afford to be without this telephone ( Pool, 1977).  The telephone was promoted on the grounds that it would increase wealth, employment and improved means of communication.  The invention of the telephone lead to development of city centers, office buildings and the concept of an urban worker society.  It has lead to the creation and destruction of jobs. The need for positions such as messenger boys, telegraphers and, ironically, operators, became virtually unnecessary (Bauer, 1995).  It has changed the pace of business and made the world smaller and more accessible to all.  The telephone has provided security and helped in emergency situations .   The telephone is both a conqueror and promoter of crime.   Suspicious looking strangers are scared away from houses who display telephone based alarm systems and people who need help could call fire trucks, doctors or police. Conversely fraudsters could reach into our houses and pick our pockets via the phone system. The telephone also changed the way social relationship and social interaction take place.  Communication over the telephone broadened the range of people one could interact with.  Long distance relationships became possible.  The telephone helps  keep close bond with families and communities.  

Telephone's Impact on Reading and Writing

Nowhere has the impact of the telephone been more dramatic then in the area of writing, and teaching.  Since the development of electronic technologies  writing is no longer the only modes of communication. The telephone has created a generation that that has a strong sense for listening to the spoken words and into a group audience just as reading written or printed texts turns individuals in on themselves (Ong, 1982, p. 134). When we use the telephone we are analytical and self-conscious due to the fact that we are still a culture of writing.   Ong states that secondary orality promotes spontaneity because through analytic reflections we recognize that spontaneity is a good thing .  Today it is much easier to use a telephone to communicate information for a business deal or an idea, the telephone is more spontaneous and an efficient way to access information than writing or reading.  Communication over the telephone can occur within a group conference or at individual level at long distances.    Telephone eliminates travel time and provides the instant gratification one gets from a direct response to one's communication.  It is much easier to phone an expert to get information on a certain topic than to read a textbook.  The telephone is a very simple device to use even for those who do not know how to read or write.  Children are fascinated by the telephone and will run to answer the phone at every opportunity.   Politician and governors use the telephone to make important decisions about the state of the country and then take a poll via phone to see if they got it right.  Communication through the telephone grants more privacy as it provides anonymity without the need for written records or documentation.  There was a time when good penmanship and elegant writing was the primary way to impress others. Electronic communication with its stress on oral skills rather than written ones provides for a great way for professionals with poor writing or penmanship skills to compensate for their deficiencies.  During the 1960's telephone based teaching or teleteaching gained popularity among elementary and secondary schools (Rao, V. Paladugu, 1977).  This was developed to meet the needs of homebound and hospitalized students. This ideas was also further used by universities by providing dial up access information retrieval systems on campus.  Students could get information on variety subject through  campus telephone networks.


The telephone has made communication more efficient and faster since it was first developed. There is no doubt that it has made a dramatic impact on writing and teaching. In some respects it has moved us back to the oral culture that we originated from and in other respects it has aided in the proliferation of the written text. The telephone has transformed societies social behavior by changing the way we communicate with each other. The telephone has fostered a whole host of new inventions, both the cellular phone and the internet are a result of the telephone system. We can now read up on an obscure subject over the internet and then phone a friend immediately to discuss it. Ursula Franklin claims  technology is more than the sum of its wheels, gears, transmitters.  It is a system that involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations and most of all, a mindset (Franklin,1999,p 2-3). The telephone is prime example of what Franklin was referring to. Just as writing changed our thought processes the telephone has also changed our mindset to a more complex way of thinking and continues to impact us as we move into the twenty-first century. Mark Twain seemed to have summed up our love hate relationship with the telephone through his following quote.

"The human voice carries too far as it is.. and now you fellows come along and seek to complicate matters..."-Mark Twain on the invention of the telephone.



Bauer, Martin (1995). Resistance to New Technology. Cambridge University Press.

Franklin, Ursula (1999). The Real World of Technology. Toronto: House Anansi Press.

Ong, Walter (1982). Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.

Postman, Neil (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Pool, Ithiel De Sola (1977).  The Social Impact of the Telephone. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rao,  Paladugu(1977).  Telephone and Instructional Communication: The Social Impact of the Telephone. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stern, E.& Gwathmey, E.(1994).  Once Upon A Telephone: An Illustrated Social History. Harcourt Brace.

Bellis, Mary (2004). Alexander Bell's picture. retrieved Oct 17, 2004 from :

Bellis, Mary (2004). Mark Twain's quote. retrieved Oct 17, 2004 from :