Introducing the Teledo
Or, Let’s be honest, it’s not a phone anymore
This is an introduction. Sort of.
At this point, you’re probably already familiar. You might be looking right at it this second, or perhaps it’s in your pocket. And you might’ve made an offhand joke about its modern nature, once or twice. But some things deserve a proper welcome, even if it comes late.
For the longest time, humans — and other animals before that, and other life forms before that — could only impact their close surroundings. The pre-technologic man could throw things and shout. And then run some distance, and throw and shout from there. The sphere of influence was limited to nearby physical proximity. The first technology didn’t necessarily change that too much. Fires (at least the intentional kind) tend to stay put, and wheels let you move more quickly, but don’t really expand the distance you can impact at any given instant.
A later class of technologies changed that, and they’re pretty easy to identify, as most of them start with tele. The root of that prefix is kwel, meaning far away. Accordingly, the telescope lets you see from far away, the telegraph lets you write from far away, the telemeter lets you measure from far away, the television lets you watch from far away, and the telephone lets you hear from far away. (And then, of course, there’s the much maligned telemarketing, which lets you sell unnecessary stuff from far away.)
Telephones, many moons ago, did precisely — and only — what their name suggests: send and receive sound at a distance. Believe it or not (I’ve confirmed this with primary sources), it was not possible to install Snapchat or Candy Crush on rotary phones. Of course, we all know the story here: Over time, telephones shrunk significantly in size and grew enormously in their capabilities, such that at this point they’re more so holdable computers with some vestigial telephonic features left over. It’s not uncommon for me to go a full week without using the “phone” on my phone.
Granted, none of this is news. Making calls became a secondary function of phones a long time ago. The thing seemingly in need of being pointed out is that we never fully changed the name. In the world of perpetually self-updating technology (5 dozen apps downloaded new versions of themselves to my phone in the past week), we’ve somehow managed to not update the word for the device at the center of our lives.
So, a suggestion. A tongue-in-cheek one, mind you — the impracticalities here are enormous — but one to better contextualize our modern everyday technology, perhaps only as a thought experiment. Today our phones aren’t about sound. (Related note: Please, turn off that keyboard click effect.) They’re about data, in all its forms: Speech, pictures, text, music, video, tic tac toe moves, and beyond.
The root dō meant to give, and it’s found in many modern words like donor, donate, endow, pardon, anecdote, antidote, and dowry . It’s also the source of data, information that’s given. And that’s what our magic devices do: They give information. And not only within earshot — that would just be shouting. They give information at any distance. So, continuing the venerable lineage of the telegraph, telescope, telephone, and television, I propose we christen our pocket computer…
No, the new name doesn’t bestow upon your device any new functionality. And yes, in the short term, your teledo will “correct” its own name to a city in Ohio (out of modesty, no doubt). But in the long term—if we somehow carried this idea to reality—it will remind us that what we have now is fundamentally different from a telephone, and it deserves to be recognized as such. Modern life is premised on the give and take of seemingly boundless information over seemingly boundless distances, and it seems only right we call the gadget that enables all this what it really is.
The telephone is dead; long live the teledo.