Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Term that Never Caught on

It's hard not to be fascinated by new words that arise to label changing technologies and ways of living. One minute it doesn't exist and the next, it seems, almost everyone knows its name.

Sometimes the terms make me cringe, though. I remember holding out against the word "browser" for years, though I never had a better suggestion.

Digging through some old books, I came across this booklet from 1986:

Yes, these authors thought that what we all spend our time doing with computers these days was or should be called "phonewriting," which they defined this way:

Today there are new means of sending and receiving information. They stem from the combination of technologies -- the information processing chip, the electronic typewriter and the telephone. It is now possible to engage in an electronic telephone conversation, much like a voice conversation. The conversation can take place directly with someone on the other end, or more likely, it can take place with an electronic information service that receives your typewritten messages and responds to them. In short, you can now send and receive electronic communications over the telephone.

We call this process, "phonewriting."
The book included this helpful illustration of the tech you need to get started with phonewriting:

(Check out that acoustic coupler modem. It had a top speed of 300 baud, which is slower than I can type. In 1985, a direct-connect modem like the one at lower right cost more than a computer these days: I spent about $600 on one, which would be $1,300 today.)

I gather from a quick perusal of the book that phonewriting would have included email, but also bulletin boards and user groups like Compuserve, and even services like Skype if they had existed, though they seem the antithesis of writing. Texting, too, I guess. And the World Wide Web, of course, though it wasn't yet a gleam in Tim Berners Lee's eye.

Of course the phone part of all this got lost a while ago, as dial-up modems have dropped away. And now it seems odd to even think of it as related to the telephone.

Phonewriting. Now there's a term I'm glad didn't catch on.

No comments: