The telephone started with the modest aim of allowing two people to have conservation when they were not in the same room. In conception it was far less ambitious than the telegraph which was intended from the start as a way of sending messages around the world.  In the early days of the telephone other media, such as newspapers, saw it as a business convenience for their employees rather than as an important new invention. But as it developed, the telephone has given us the network structure and exchange technology that enabled radio and television networks to be built. Without the telephone netwrok there would be no internet.

The telephone extends that most fundamental element of human communication – the spoken word.  Its huge success as a medium reflects how much we all like talking to each other.  It has created its own language of dialling, ringing, phoning and holding-on. It has changed society and business by making us all connected. The telephone industry was the rehearsal space for the heated debates about the pros and cons of monopoly suppliers and the true economics of networks. The massive scale of investment in the telephone system reflects the huge demand from people to be able to make and receive calls.

A telephone call by its nature is normally a one-to-one conversation.  It links two people. It is a rich, personal communication but it is not a broadcast.   It is not, normally, a mass medium like a newspaper or television, but it is most certainly a crucial “extension of man.” The technology of the telephone grew out of the telegraph network but, rather than going through a code of dashes and dots, it allowed the sound of the human voice to be relayed, directly, over great distances. In practice, it was a technical advance on the direct link of the mega-phone rather than the coded smoke signal. Although some early experiments used telephones as a broadcast tool, it was as a point-to-point communications device that it found its place.