In 1896, a French Cartoonist Predicted Our Socially-Distanced Zoom Holiday Gatherings

Imag­ine that, this time last year, you’d heard that your fam­i­ly’s hol­i­day gath­er­ings in 2020 would hap­pen on the inter­net. Even if you believed such a future would one day come, would you have cred­it­ed for a moment that kind of immi­nence? Yet our video­con­fer­ence toasts this sea­son were pre­dict­ed — even ren­dered in clear and rea­son­ably accu­rate detail — more than 120 years ago. “My wife is vis­it­ing her aunt in Budapest, my old­er daugh­ter is study­ing den­tistry in Mel­bourne, my younger daugh­ter is a min­ing engi­neer in the Urals, my son rais­es ostrich­es in Batavia, my nephew is on his plan­ta­tions in Batavia,” says the cap­tion of the 1896 car­toon above. “But this does not pre­vent us from cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas on the tele­phono­scope.”

This pan­el ran in Belle Époque humor mag­a­zine Le rire (avail­able to read at the Inter­net Archive), drawn by the hand and pro­duced by the imag­i­na­tion of Albert Robi­da. A nov­el­ist as well as an artist, Robi­da drew acclaim in his day for the series Le Vingtième Siè­cle, whose sto­ries offered visions of the tech­nol­o­gy to come in that cen­tu­ry.

“Next to Zoom Christ­mas,” tweets phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Helen de Cruz, Robi­da also imag­ined a future in which this “tele­phono­scope” would “give us edu­ca­tion, movies, tele­con­fer­enc­ing.” As ear­ly as the 1860s, says the Pub­lic Domain Review, Robi­da had “pub­lished an illus­tra­tion depict­ing a man watch­ing a ‘tele­vised’ per­for­mance of Faust from the com­fort of his own home.” See image above.

Though Robi­da seems to have coined the word “tele­phono­scope,” he was­n’t the first to pub­lish the kind of idea to which it referred. “The con­cept of the device first appeared not long after the tele­phone was patent­ed in 1876,” writes Ver­i­ty Hunt in a Lit­er­a­ture and Sci­ence arti­cle quot­ed by the Pub­lic Domain Review. “The term ‘telec­tro­scope’ was used by the French sci­en­tist and pub­lish­er Louis Figu­ier in L’An­née Sci­en­tifique et Indus­trielle in 1878 to pop­u­lar­ize the inven­tion, which he incor­rect­ly inter­pret­ed as real and ascribed to Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell.” The goal was to “do for the eye what the tele­phone had done for the ear,” though it would­n’t be ful­ly real­ized for well over a cen­tu­ry. When you raise a glass to a web­cam this week, con­sid­er toast­ing Albert Robi­da, to whom the year 2021 would have sound­ed impos­si­bly dis­tant — but who has proven more pre­scient about it than many of us alive today.

via Helen De Cruz

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 1947 French Film Accu­rate­ly Pre­dict­ed Our 21st-Cen­tu­ry Addic­tion to Smart­phones

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned Life in the Year 2000: Draw­ing the Future

Mark Twain Pre­dicts the Inter­net in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Sto­ry, “From The ‘Lon­don Times’ in 1904”

In 1911, Thomas Edi­son Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2011: Smart Phones, No Pover­ty, Libraries That Fit in One Book

Paris Had a Mov­ing Side­walk in 1900, and a Thomas Edi­son Film Cap­tured It in Action

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • gwr says:

    There is also a short sto­ry from 1902 by Kurd Lass­witz (the “father of Ger­man sci­ence fic­tion”) called “The Dis­tance Learn­ing School” (“Die Fern­schule”) that tells a com­ic tale about a pro­fes­sor who has dreamt he’s awok­en a cen­tu­ry lat­er and must now teach a very “Zoom-like” class of stu­dents beamed in from across the con­ti­nent onto a wall of frames before him. He encoun­ters much of the same prob­lems that he had teach­ing “in per­son” and a few that might ring a bell with teach­ers who’ve had to teach online this past awful year. Hilar­i­ty some­times ensues.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.