Sunday, March 6, 2011
Kites, phones & a Bell
I'm so convinced multi-tasking is detrimental to true efficiency that I refuse to walk and chew gum at the same time.
This puts me at odds with the rest of the productive world and in happy harmony with one of the world’s most renown geniuses.
That would be Alexander Graham Bell.
I had the opportunity to work on a very enjoyable story this week for msnbc.com about the Zilker Park Kite Festival today in Austin, Texas.
Among the many things I learned is I want to spend more time among people who fly kites, a global phenomenon that predates Christianity by 200 years. Kite people are splendid and artistic problem solvers who allow their inner 6 year olds to emerge anytime it gets a little windy.
I don’t know whether they get high as their kites, but they act like they do. They are perfectly at peace. Near the eve of the biggest kite festivals of the year, the participants conveyed no tension.
It has me wondering why “Go fly a kite” ever became such a nasty putdown. It should be something doctors recommend instead of things like Valium.
So I intend to go fly a kite in the very near future. And I’ll, as I usually do, leave my smart phone behind.
I’ve had mine a month now and am pleased to report there’s no danger of it enslaved me.
It provides so many marvelous conveniences, but that only makes me more aware of the need to keep its seductions at bay.
And that brings me to the man whose name in phone history towers above even Steve Jobs.
That’d be A.G. Bell, a man I confess to having known little about prior to this week. I thought he was a Yank like me, but he was a hosehead. Who knew?
Yes, he was born March 3, 1847, in Edinburg, Scotland, and at age 23 moved to Nova Scotia where he resided until his death August 2, 1922, at age of 75, bearing a mirthful resemblance to St. Nick. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in the provincial town of Baddeck not far from his estate.
Bell, of course, is famous for having been issued the patent for the first telephone on -- anniversary alert -- March 7, 1876. Remember that tomorrow the instant your phone rings.
Here’s a thought: What sound would the original phone have registered if it had been invented by a man named Alexander Graham Horn?
I was surprised a story of kites would lead me to Baddeck, but I wanted to include some history of kites and was stumbled into illumination that Bell was an avid and life-long kiter.
“Alexander Graham Bell spent his whole life tinkering with kites and in 1909 constructed these enormous monstrosities capable of lifting grown men 100-feet in the air, ” says Bell museum superintendent Eddie Kennedy. “He was a genius, but a child at heart. He adored kites.”
And that wasn’t even the most fascinating thing Kennedy told me. It turns out the man credited with inventing the now ubiquitous form of communication was uneasy about how they’d be used.
“He said he didn’t think anyone would want one in his home or his office because the phone would be too much a distraction,” Kennedy said. Talk visionary.
Think about that. The man who invented the device was ambivalent about its apps about 130 years before apps about things like angry birds became an international insanity.
Looks like I have a new hero to research and, like another hero of mine, Ben Franklin, he, too, was into kites.
So soon as it gets windy, I’m going to go find a really spiffy kite and a long line of thread I can unspool into the distant winds.
And, yeah, first thing I’ll do is see if my distracting little smartphone has an app for that.
A disdain toward multi-tasking doesn’t preclude a kinship to cool.