How'd we go from topophone to iPhone?

A few days ago, while wading through files so old even their dust was coated with patina, I ran across an etching of a man with a "Topophone." The contraption, invented/patented in 1879, enabled its operator to determine the exact direction of a distant sound for use by ships at sea. Doubtless that invention awed the man depicted here, just as I am by today's innovative technology.

Well, even I wasn't yet born in 1879, but computer-savvy users probably think I was because I'm still amazed that when Lawrence and I were in Papua New Guinea, I could type my columns, press SEND, and those pieces went halfway around the world, crossed the equator and landed in one particular computer desk at The Post-Standard. Instantly!

I was born too soon. You see, I'm still worried my e-mailed columns might be caught in the phone lines' innards somewhere - like the bulge in a snake after swallowing something larger than its body. So my editor always reassures me, "It's here OK." What amazes me more is if I had a wireless setup, I would not need a phone line or an outlet.


Maybe it's an impending birthday next month that's causing me to take stock of present capabilities.

Physical properties:

Sense of smell: Excellent. I amuse Lawrence when I zip around the house with nose pointed upward - like a bird dog's - sniffing for the source of some odor he cannot smell ... and finding it. He thinks I could substitute for a canary in a coal mine.

Sense of hearing: Lawrence agrees I best him in that category, too. My ears perk at an upstairs toilet running, a garbage truck three blocks away, the creaking sounds old houses make. "Just ignore them and go back to sleep," is his simple solution.

Sense of taste: Fading, I think. Foods I cook aren't as tasty as I recall Mom's were.

Sense of sight: Nothing wrong there - it's not my fault some companies don't print stuff as large as they used to. (How about yours - did you notice my new mug shot in this column?)

Sense of touch: I love Lawrence's when it concerns me. As for my own hands: veins resemble blue highways on a road map.

Well, that takes care of my physical attributes; now how about my mental ones? OK, present-day recollections are fading, especially when it concerns another's name and/or when I stop and ask myself, "Why did I come in here?" then must return to the starting point to get back on track.

But, past events are plenty sharp, however. Call us dweebs, if you wish, but Lawrence's and my conversations often are dotted with "old days" recollections.

Like back when thread came on wooden spools, and small boy "pilots" wore leather helmets with ear flaps and goggles, and girls jumped rope/played jacks, and all kids clomped around on coffee-can stilts, and glided on iced ponds with skates strapped to shoe soles, and folks saved foil Christmas tree icicles year to year, and popped corn in skillets, and typists made copies with black carbon paper between sheets, and used real ink and blotters, and men played checkers outside stores, and kids bought a sack of candy corn for a penny, and neighbors shared swings/stories on front porches, and car tires had inner tubes and back seats you could lift up to find loose change, and you called friends by cranking a handle to get "Central." And such a thing as an iPhone never entered one's wildest imaginations.

Isabel Wolseley Torrey is a Syracuse freelance writer and photojournalist whose columns appear on alternate Saturdays. She's the author of "Don't Holler 'til You're Hurt," a collection of her columns.

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