The Air at the Top of the Bottle

The Ullage Group header image 1

Bill Nye on the Future of Punditry

October 30th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye (1850-1896) was, in his time, a popular humorist, both as journalist and lecturer.  He’s not much read now, but I suggest that he’s still worth a look.  Here, for example, is a slice from an essay on the future.  Edison, by the way, was indeed working on a thought-recording machine.

“In fact, Mr. Edison has now perfected, or announced that he is on the way to the perfection of, a machine which I may be pardoned for calling a storage think-tank.  This will enable a man to sit at home, and, with an electric motor and a perfected phonograph, he can think into a tin dipper or funnel, which will, by the aid of electricity and a new style of foil, record and preserve his ideas on a sheet of soft metal, so that when anyone says to him, ‘A penny for your thoughts,’ he can go to his valise and give him a piece of his mind.  Thus the man who has such wild and beautiful thoughts in the night and can never hold on to them long enough to turn on the gas and get his writing materials, can set this thing by the head of his bed, and, when the poetic thought comes to him in the stilly night, he can think into a hopper, and the genius of Franklin and Edison together will enable him to fire it back to his friends in the morning while they eat their pancakes and glucose syrup from Vermont, or he can mail the sheet of tinfoil to absent friends, who may put it into their phonographs and utilize it.  In this way the world may harness the gray matter of its best men, and it will be no uncommon thing to see a dozen brainy men tied up in a row in the back office of an intellectual syndicate, dropping pregnant thoughts into little electric coffee mills for a couple of hours a day, after which they can put on their coats, draw their pay, and go home. 

“All this will reduce the quantity of exercise, both mental and physical.  Two men with good brains could do the thinking for 60,000,000 of people and feel perfectly fresh and rested the next day.  Take four men, we will say, two to do the day thinking and two more to go on deck at night, and see how much time the rest of the world would have to go fishing.  See how politics would become simplified.  Conventions, primaries, bargains and sales, campaign bitterness and vituperation — all might be wiped out.  A pair of political thinkers could furnish 100,000,000 of people with logical conclusions enough to last them through the campaign and put an unbiased opinion into a man’s house each day, for less than he now pays for gas.  Just before election you could go into your private office, throw in a large dose of campaign whisky, light a campaign cigar, fasten your button-hole to the wall by an elastic band, so that there would be a gentle pull on it, and turn the electricity on your mechanical thought supply.  It would save time and money, and the result would be the same as it is now.  This would only be the beginning, of course, and after a while every qualified voter who did not feel like exerting himself so much, need only give his name and proxy to the salaried thinker employed by the National Think Retort and Supply Works.  We talk a great deal about the union of church and state, but that is not so dangerous, after all, as the mixture of politics and independent thought.  Will the coming voter be an automatic, legless, hairless mollusk with an abnormal ear constantly glued to the tube of a big tank full of symmetrical ideas fashioned by a national bureau of brains in the employ of the party in power?”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)    

Tags: Belief Systems · Education · Literature · Technology

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Oct 31, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Will the coming voter be an automatic, legless, hairless mollusk with an abnormal ear constantly glued to the tube of a big tank full of symmetrical ideas fashioned by a national bureau of brains in the employ of the party in power?

    He seems to be describing television. Bill Nye was quite remarkably a man ahead of his time!

Leave a Comment