The future imagined in Albert Robida’s La vie électrique (1890) – The Public Domain Review
Who participated in the first video date? A good couple for candidacy in this regard are Georges Lorris and Estelle Lacombe, who meet via “téléphonoscope” in Albert Robida’s 1890 novel Le Vingtième siècle: la vie électrique in which he imagines “the electric life” of the future. Adding a visual component to two recent technologies, the telephone (1876) and the phonograph (1877), this device lets scattered families in the year 1956 reunite around a virtual dinner table. For the lovebirds Lorris and Lacombe, the téléphonoscope facilitates their unapproved liaison in an immunologically fraught world. (And, for those without a beau, it also offers a service akin to on-demand streaming.) This proto Zoom / Netflix hybrid is just one of several prescient predictions in Robida’s novel.
Now, electrocuting wood isn’t something that happens every day, so if someone came up to you and asked you what that would look like, you’d probably say something like, “Er, I don’t know, perhaps like, er, slow brown lightning or something? Something fractally? Perhaps mirroring the patterns of the wood’s original branches or roots or something? And then, perhaps, when two branches or lightning paths meet, they kind of get bigger? More like dark brown, clotted varicose veins or something, like out of The Thing, maybe?”
And you know what, you’d be right.