December 2, 2010

The telephone in England and America

J. Ellis Barker.  "The Telephone in England and America."  Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. 25 Nov 1922.

The word "backwardness" occurs frequently in Barker's 1922 article, and he is not referring to the situation in the US.  He reports on statistics issued by AT&T which show how many telephones there were in the world, and in which countries they were to be found.  In January 1921 there were 20.8 million phones worldwide - and 12.4 million of them were in the US.  The United Kingdom lags in thirteenth place with 2.1 million telephones.  These figures demonstrate the "extraordinary backwardness of the English telephone."  Even more shameful is the fact that the UK lies behind "poverty-stricken and backward Austria" in the league table.

The figures are more illuminating when we convert them into number of phones per one hundred population.  London had 4.7 telephones for every one hundred people; the US as a whole had 12.4; San Francisco 29.4 (they obviously talked more there!)  There were as many telephones in New York as there were in the whole of the UK.

I would normally be somewhat dubious of statistics produced by a commercial entity, but in this case other sources bear out these findings (regarding global distribution of telephones). 

The writer continues in laudatory terms about the American service: how efficient it is; how superior the standards are; how even poor people and farmers use the service.  

The British service, the writer informs, has been held back by bureaucracy and under development.

It is once more interesting that the writer sees the telephone as primarily an instrument for business (as opposed to domestic us), having proved itself to be "a business instrument of the utmost value."  Again, English business men "can realize the backwardness of the telephone" if they travel to the US and see how things are done there.

The article writer was German; how much this has to do with his disparaging language and affinity for the word "backward" I know not.  Was he perhaps sponsored by AT&T to write this article?

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