When I was in second grade, I saw the film The Time Machine at a drive-in theater. It was directed by George Pal, starred Rod Taylor, and was released in 1960. It was scary. It was cool. It had “primitive” special effects by today’s standards. But I loved it.
Eventually, it sent me to the library to get the novel by H.G. Wells. Twenty years later, I taught that book to a bunch of like-minded seventh graders that I had lured into reading its very 19th century pages with very 21st century imaginings about traveling through time.
Then, the summer after fourth grade, I tried to build a time machine in my own basement. I had a “lab” in a old coal bin that was full of chemistry sets, rockets, rocks, any tool I could find, model car kits and salvaged electronic components.
I had no idea where to start or what to do, but I just went at it. (Years later, I would jealously watch ET do the same kind of thing successfully.) I have never lost my fascination for time travel.
The telectroscope (also referred to as ‘electroscope’) was the first non-working prototype (i.e. conceptual model) of a television or videophone system. The term was used in the 19th century to describe science-based systems of distant seeing.
The name and its concept came into being not long after the telephone was patented in 1876, and its original concept evolved from that of transmitting remote facsimile reproductions on paper, into the live viewing of remote images.
Back in 2008, artist Paul St George exhibited an outdoor interactive video installation linking London and New York City in a faux “telectroscope.” Of course, it wasn’t any more real than the ones from earlier centuries – but this conceptual model “worked.”
It had a fictional “back story” that said that the device worked by using a transatlantic tunnel started by the artist’s fictional great-grandfather, Alexander Stanhope St. George. People looking in one end in NYC could see and hear those at the other end in London.
I like the term “distant seeing” that was attached to the original concept and has remained.
telectroscope in New York photo via urbanshoregirl
The installation art actually used a visual high speed broadband link between London and New York City that did allow people to see across the ocean.
You can’t really call any of these telectroscopes “television systems” or “time machines.” And the term telectroscope was replaced by the term “television.” But, looking back at the original 1870s imaginings about these things, it sounds like they were describing our television, or even the Internet, or perhaps some merging of the two that is happening right now.
- Paul St. George’s Telectroscope Project
- Telectroscope – from Wikipedia
- BBC News video of the Telectroscope Project