>> Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Brother Vince brought to my attention a Techdirt piece, "Moral Panics Of 1878: NY Times Warns People About The Evils Of Thomas Edison's Aerophone", which is absolutely worth a read and well-taken: people have been complaining about novelties, whether we're talking about their children or their inventions, for as long as we have recorded what people think about anything. In 1878, it was the nation's self-appointed paper-of-record griping that Thomas Edison's phonograph was going to make private conversation a thing of the past, which actually happened, and that this would (among other things) keep young men from ever whispering sweet nothings in the ears of their beloveds for fear the cunning vixens would be wired for sound and use the soft words of woo in breach of promise suits; now you know why everybody stopped getting married in the 19th Century.
But this point about how there's nothing new in all the hand-twisting over new technologies isn't the very best thing in the 1878 article Techdirt cites, nor is the best thing just how wrong the Times' fears turned out to be. No, the best thing is this, right here:
Mr. EDISON, with characteristic effrontery, represents this as a useful and beneficent invention. He says that an aerophone can be attached to a locomotive, and that with its aid the engineer can request persons to "look out for the locomotive" who are nearing a railway crossing four miles distant from the train. He also boasts that he will attach an aerophone to the gigantic statue of "Liberty." Which France is to present to this country, provided we will raise money enough to pay for it, and that the statue will thus be able to welcome incoming vessels in the Lower Bay, and to warn them not to come up to the City in case Mr. STANLEY MATTHEWS is delivering an oration on the currency, or Mr. Cox is making a comic speech at Tammany Hall.
This saddens me. I cannot express how much it does. It doesn't amuse me that the New York Times, a newspaper that carries columns by Thomas Friedman and David Brooks that it evidently pays them for with no apparent sense of pity or shame, was wrong. It distresses me. It brings me tears. It fills me with woe and regret.
I mean, can you imaging how fucking awesome it would be if the Statue of Liberty had a loudspeaker that belted out greetings to arriving ships?
Seriously. "HI! WELCOME TO AMERICA!" it could shout. "HOW ARE YOU TODAY? ENJOY YOUR VISIT!" In times of xenophobia and isolationism, Liberty could scream, "NO THANK YOU! PLEASE GO HOME WHEREVER THAT IS!" In times of prosperity and open arms, "HI! ARE YOU HERE TO SPEND SOME MONEY! WE LIKE MONEY! DON'T FORGET TO VISIT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING OBSERVATION DECK WHILE YOU'RE HERE! MONEY!"
She could taunt Europe. We'd like that way too much, I fear. She could call our enemies a bunch of rotten assholes at 200 dB. (That would be pretty feckin' loud--Manhattan Island might want to move back a few feet, or put up some kind of audio baffle in the harbor. And it might not even be loud enough: I mean, I figure we'd want Liberty to be loud enough to wake up Mosul, right?)
And trains. Trains could be so cool. So, so cool.
The ScatterKat and I live near some tracks that run through North Charlotte, which is both a minor annoyance and an awesome thing: the tracks are going to end up being part of the light rail extension, which is good, but right now they're used for freight and we sometimes have to pause a movie or TV show if we're watching something with the windows open. Train goes by, blaring away at the horns because of an intersection less than a mile from us, it interrupts phone conversations or even just regular chat. We don't mind terribly, because we both really like trains, but it's slightly inconvenient.
But how awesome would it be if, instead of a blatting horn, the train cried out, "LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE! LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE!"?
That's right, it would be completely awesome. Superawesome. Awesome surpassing mere awesomosity. (I don't know why you people keep looking at my website like I make these words up. Do you not have a dictionometery?)
That human contact, something animate and friendly, unlike the robotized pseudodinosaurical roar of the air horn! Offering useful information instead of an inarticulate groan! "LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE!" Why yes, I will, thank you, Mr. Train! I will look out for the locomotive! It could even be elaborated upon when needed: "NO! IDIOT! THE TRAIN IS OVER HERE! LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE BEHIND YOU!" All the accidents that could be prevented by adding necessary informational details to what is now a vague cry of omen.
Granted, this wonderful, wonderful change would have had a curious effect on country music and the blues (and, by extension, upon rock and roll).
The lonely, wordless cry of the locomotive is, of course, one of the great muses of indigenous American music. How many American bards have hearkened to the comings and goings of trains as harbingers of love lost (almost always love lost) or, every now and again, love found (usually after some long and devastating absence)? Ella might have to tell us, for example, "Now the rain's a-fallin' / Hear the train's a callin', LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE!" which kind of throws off the meter. Or I imagine Bruce Springsteen wistfully recalling how "The room was dark, our bed was empty / Then I heard LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE!"
Perhaps, in honor of our native traditions, engineers could sometimes shout out something to help our singers and songwriters: "LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE! SHE DUMPED YOU!" for example. Or, "YOU'VE TRAGICALLY WASTED YOUR LIFE! LOOK OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE!" It might have a somewhat problematic effect on the suicide rate, I grant you; at least at first, until we all got used to it. But it would give our poets something to talk about.