When Thomas Edison accidentally invented a method to record sound in 1877 he was working on a completely different project and was surprised to hear faint voices coming from the whirling disc of the telegraphic device he was perfecting. He was lucky to hear the captured sound of his and his staff’s muffled conversation since he was quite hard of hearing.

This was the golden age of invention. Edison went on to invent the light bulb and movies while others created the telephone, dynamite, color photography, internal combustion engines, toilet paper, matchbooks and the radio. But apparently no one even imagined that sound could be captured and repeated. When Edison applied for his phonograph patent there were no other applications from competing inventors.

Nature had already provided a couple of ways for humans to capture their speech, but they were impractical and unreliable. There was the echo which required a trip to the mountains and a recording session which usually amounted to one or two shoutings of “Hellooooooo”. One could also train a parrot to repeat his words, I doubt however that anyone ever dictated a letter to a parrot trusting it would be repeated accurately later to a typist without interjected profanity and requests for crackers.

If Edison’s deafness had been a little more profound, the world might be a lot different today. We would still be watching silent movies which would rule out blockbuster productions like “The Sound of Music”. There wouldn’t be a recording industry and TV shows would all be live since reruns would require subtitles for the dialogue.

There would be no robocalls or long radio and TV interruptions for recorded commercials. Store owners who insist on irritating shoppers with recordings of annoying raucous music would have to hire annoying raucous singers and musicians. Sometimes I wish Thomas Alva had turned a deaf ear.

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