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Topic section: Unpredicted consequences
Unpredicted consequences
Telephones can seriously damage your health. This would hardly have been news to users of early telephones, who were convinced
Picture: 03_10437809.jpg
Can such a tiny thing cause such health problems?
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 that diseases such as tuberculosis could be transmitted through the telephone mouth

Users of early telephones were convinced that diseases such as tuberculosis could be transmitted through the telephone mouthpiece

piece. Today, many mobile phone users may have watched with bemusement as the scientific establishment tried to work out whether or not mobiles cause brain tumours. But texter’s thumb? How unpredicted was that? This painful repetitive strain injury is becoming more common as people send more text messages. The simplest cure seems to be rest.

Indeed, the technology is having an interesting effect on our anatomy. The younger generation are using their thumbs to operate mobile phones to such an extent that their thumbs are becoming stronger and
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Early advertisement for telephones but could this be the start of diseases transmitted through telephone mouthpiece?
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 more dexterous. This is leading to an increasing use of thumbs where older generations would use their index fingers, such as when ringing doorbells, pushing buttons, and pointing.

Telephones have not only triggered unpredicted changes to our bodies. They also allow us to change our lives in unforeseen ways. Although the telephone was initially promoted as a business tool to be used by men, women began utilising it for running their households, placing shopping orders over the telephone.

Picture: 03_10323808.jpg
Woman using mobile phone.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Women also use the phone to help them other ways. In rural areas of Bangladesh, a single mobile phone is an invaluable way of connecting with the outside world. Women’s co-operatives find that they can both earn a steady income and provide a service to the community by hiring out use of the phone.

Finally, the technologies we use to communicate have often had unpredictable effects on the language we use in everyday life. This is inevitably accompanied by expressions of concern that children will forget how to speak English. The best illustration today is the use of mobile phone text language, which has begun to creep into children’s essays, much to the horror of teachers.

However hard people have tried to predict the consequences of the development of the phone, they are rarely able to foresee the full impact – whether it be on our language, our health, our personal finances, or the way we lead our lives.

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Topic section: Unpredicted successes
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It is often hard to predict which groups will benefit most from new technologies. Early telephone manufacturers did not realise that farmers would be keen to use their products, and today mobile phones are even used by activists to depose presidents.  > more

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Topic section: Unpredicted failures
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Manufacturers often think they have created an improved version of the telephone that will sell like hot cakes. More often than not, their breakthrough fails to sell. Sometimes an innovation is a success in one place and a failure elsewhere.  > more
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