With a group of Senators now looking to block various websites the Justice Department deems as “pirate,” websites, it’s worth taking a look back at how Senators can be rather silly in their rush to ban certain technologies, highlighting why it’s generally not a good idea when politicians get involved in technology. The Nieman Journalism Lab points us to the news that, back in 1930, the Senate came close to banning dial telephones (where you dialed them yourself), preferring to have an operator do the connection instead. To the anti-dial Senators, it was seen as inappropriate to do the work of operators themselves. The resolution, which passed, read:
Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.
Now, it’s true that the resolution only impacted the Senate — but when another Senator asked why they didn’t ban dial phones from all of Washington DC, Senator Carter Glass from Virginia who sponsored the resolution apparently said that “he hoped the phone company would take the hint,” and would remove all dial phones.
While the resolution did pass, some younger Senators were apparently upset about it — as they actually preferred to dial their own numbers, and put forth a resolution to let Senators choose which they wanted — leading to a “compromise” where those who wanted dial phones could keep them, but those who wanted to have the operator handle the difficulty for them, could do so. As one Senator, Clarence Dill, noted in support of the ban:
In his experience, the dial phone “could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; he must be in a position where there is good light, day or night, in order to see the number; and if he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection.”
Is it any wonder that some of us think that it’s not a good idea for elected officials to determine the relative merits of technology?