In the nineteenth century, the telegraph key was the only way to communicate electronically. Today, nearly the full range of human dialog can be expressed through electronic digital media. Metafora denotes the potential for the expression of limitless possibilities for interaction and communication across great reaches of time and space. The birth of electric communication through the telegraph—first by wire—was profound because messages could be communicated at great speed across great distance, and to a large audience.

Morse's (Samuel F.B. Morse, American painter and inventor, 1791-1872) invention of the telegraph gave communication the speed of light, and it traveled across half the world with the installation of the transatlantic cable in 1865. As telegraphy spread, it wrought profound changes, amplified all the more by the advent of the telephone, which came shortly thereafter (1876). Although the telegraph allowed the transmission of one's own words, it was still a notational system, lacking the inflection of the human voice. The telephone allowed people to broadcast their voices in real time, connecting one person to another in virtual space. Our word "call," applied to the use of the telephone, came from the phrase "to call on" or to pay a visit. People could now visit from afar and interrupt the daily routine at any time. This marked the first instance of the virtual self, the ability to interact with others in unexpected new ways.

The computer is unlike
other forms of expression;
it is a container that
carries ideas without
the necessity of a
tangible medium.
The magnitude of these innovations notwithstanding, it was still necessary for people to be connected through the telegraph cable, a connection that was limited by topography. Guglielmo Marconi's (Italian inventor, 1874-1937) discovery and harnessing of the radio wave allowed for wireless telegraphy, the transmission of the dots and dashes of Morse code through the air, as described in McClure's magazine in 1902: "Here is nothing but space, a pole with a pendant wire on one side of a broad, curving ocean, an uncertain kite struggling in the air on the other—and thought passing between.

By 1906, the work of a number of inventors, such as Alexander Graham Bell (Scottish-born inventor, 1847-1922), Elisha Gray (American inventor, 1835-1901), Nikola Tesla (Serbian-born inventor, 1856-1943), and Reginald Fessenden (Canadian-born inventor, 1866-1932), culminated in the first voice broadcast by radio. Messages, liberated from the physical, could be sent to multiple receivers—the next step in the evolution of the mass audience and mass communication.

In the beginning ARPA
created the ARPANET.
And the APRANET was
without form and void.
And darkness was
upon the deep.
And the spirit of ARPA
moved upon the face of the
and ARPA said
"Let there be protocol"
and there was
And ARPA saw
that it was good.
And ARPA said,
"Let there be
more protocols,"
and it was so.
And ARPA saw
that it was good.
And ARPA said, Let there be
more networks," and it was so

- Danny Cohen, Internet pioneer

The upper classes worried that such unexpected interruptions would break down the carefully crafted etiquette that held the class system in place. They were right. Today, we similarly fear the uninvited intrusion of unwanted calls and email, though newly developing filtering technology may offer some relief. Technology's presence is a constant condition of our waking life: The cell phone, pager, and wireless email leave no one unconnected. As Avital Ronell (Israeli-born literary critic and philosopher) says in The Telephone Book, "Technology is always on."

The telephone changed the configuration of the physical spaces of living and work, and so the nature of our community. Managers could now oversee the mill from a distant location using the telephone, and their offices began to congregate offsite in downtown business districts. This led to the skyscraper and the subway to transport large masses of people to and from these centralized locations. The advent of telecommuting, related perhaps to the spread of the suburbs, may move the location of the office entirely out of centralized locations. No physical boundary need limit the reach of the realm of the circuit.

Imagine a generation raised with the ability to generate text, sound, and image in their pockets. When they can send email and listen to music nearly anywhere, the very concept of space is transformed. What happens to the movie theater or the office building? Does our national pastime become a video game, or a remixed broadcast of a baseball game?