Deafness had a key role in the invention of the phone, the internet and SMS texting. As voting for Ireland’s Net Visionary Awards gets under way, Miriam Walsh explains the link to each technology.
Would you consider deafness in any way to have influenced the telephone, Internet and SMS texting as everyday tools for communication? Most people would not – but deafness is the universal link.
Let’s start with the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the US in the 1870s. Bell’s mother had progressive deafness and this led him to study acoustics. Bell’s father worked to teach deaf people to speak. In their youth, Bell & his brothers learned to write visible speech (symbols showing lip movements to sounds) and to match symbols to their correlating sound.
As an adult, Bell studied sound and its creation. He used the telegraph as a basis for inventing the telephone. On October 9, 1876 the first phone conversation took place between Bell and Thomas A. Watson. A year later Bell Telephone Company was created and by 1886, over 150,000 people in the US had telephones (remember, the Internet runs over phone lines).
Next, the Internet. Vinton Cerf, Google’s chief evangelist, was central to creating the early Internet. Cerf is hard of hearing and in the 1970s was part of an initial research team into internet protocols under Steve Crocker. Cerf’s hearing issues meant he needed to share documents with associates instead of talking on a phone. The first IP-based network resulted in 1981.
Only since the early 1990s has the Internet been a portal for communication & social networking, with Facebook recently passing Google as a destination.
Finally, SMS texting. Finland’s Matti Makonen is credited with inventing SMS texting. The first SMS was sent in 1992. The idea of SMS was first discussed by Makkonen in a Copenhagen pizzeria with two other Finns, Seppo Tiainen and Juhani Tapiol. Makkonen invented SMS texting for deaf people to communicate, but when SMS offered an incredible new method for saving telecom bandwidth, the world of cellular telecommunications changed.