We like to think that we have a good idea of the general timeline of human invention. Our ancestors figured out bronze in the Bronze Age. Textiles, machinery, and reckless worker endangerment hit their stride during the Industrial Revolution. And of course, the Christian Slater film was invented in the late 1980s. However, as we've mentioned before, many conveniences, services, and forms of disposable entertainment that we think of as quintessentially modern have in truth been around longer than some of us have been alive. Often by a few hundred years.
6 Streaming Services Were Invented In The 1800s
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These days, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes are constantly waiting to shatter our daily obligations by offering us the ability to watch every single episode of Saved By The Bell whenever we want. This is modern technology at its finest -- something our great-grandparents could never comprehend.
Or maybe they could, if they hadn't been too busy rocking the fuck out to their very own music streaming service way back in the 19th century.
"Inquire about our playlists. Guaranteed to moisten thine gentlelady's bloomers!"
The above picture is an ad for the Electrophone System, a subscription audio delivery system that operated in England from 1895 to 1926. Its main purpose was to broadcast live music shows and church sermons, which were the era's equivalent to Adele's 25 and Game Of Thrones.
The service used phone lines connected to Electrophone's special receiver. All you had to do was call them up, and a phone operator would ask what you wanted to listen to. If the user wanted to listen to a sermon, the call would be redirected to a church where microphones were installed (sometimes disguised as Bibles, because for some reason microphones were a point of contention in the Lord's house). For an opera, the operator would connect the call to the Royal Opera House, where another set of special microphones would stream the show.
"I'd like to hear the Queen's bath time ambiance."
"Right away, sir."
Of course, this cutting-edge technology didn't come cheap. The subscription cost five pounds a year -- the equivalent of around $570 today. That's five and a half Amazon Prime memberships. However, adding an extra receiver to an existing line only cost one pound, which allowed the wealthy-but-not-that-wealthy of the era to pool their resources into galleries with multiple Electrophone receivers. It was the 19th century's version of sharing a friend's Netflix password. The company even provided coin-operated machines, so people could pay per listen to keep up with their favorite sermon, rather than spring for the whole subscription.
Surprisingly, it was way more economical than modern cable television services.
Electrophone wasn't the only player in the game, either; other countries had companies providing similar services. Hungary had Telefon-Hirmondo (literally the Phone Newspaper), and France had Theatrophone way back in 1881, which came with Victor Hugo's seal of approval. We assume his endorsement was their equivalent of those DirecTV ads starring Rob Lowe.
5 We've Had Self-Driving Cars Since 1977
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Google's self-driving car project is like a sci-fi fantasy come true, bringing us one step closer to a world in which fully-automated cars allow us to use both hands to stuff tacos into our faces on the way to work / school / probation violation hearings.
The thing is, Google is only the latest in the long line of players in the self-driving car game, and so far, the world hasn't turned into a Cars-style apocalyptic dystopia. As early as 1953, Chevrolet played around with self-driving cars that followed electric wires embedded in the road, sort of like the Land Rovers in Jurassic Park, only longer and with way more annoying children.
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Seen here, with cars that look suspiciously like the ones in pre-apocalypse Fallout.
However, the first actual self-driving cars started emerging in 1977, when Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Lab developed a computerized, totally autonomous vehicle. It was equipped with cameras that were able to process white sheet markers on the roads, relying on both the markers and an elevated rail to navigate. Unfortunately, it could only travel at a maximum speed of 18 miles per hour, which made it about as useful an automated conveyance as weighing the gas pedal down on your lawn tractor and taking it onto the interstate.
Ten years after that, Ernst Dickmanns at the Bundeswehr University Munich created the VaMoRs, a Mercedes van equipped with eight 16-bit microprocessors and two cameras. It is unclear why he didn't name it the Dickmobile. Perhaps he felt the world was not ready for two simultaneous achievements in human ingenuity.
"May I present: ze Schwanzwagen!"
The first VaMoRs could judge its relative position from other cars to avoid a collision, allowing it to travel at 56 mph during test phases without incident. Its 1988 successor, Vamp, upped the ante by driving a 990-mile road trip almost entirely without human assistance.
Despite the fact that they all seem to work pretty well, none of these research prototypes have approached any kind of mass production. We're conflicted about this. On one hand, they would probably have enslaved us twice over by now. On the other, we'd happily worship self-driving car overlords if it meant we'd never have to deal with Uber again.