Electricity as a Factor in Civilization

J. Siegel
1912 Scientific American  
July 27, 1912 cates, and nouns from the verbs. From their desinences he reconstructed stems and roots, like his predecessors, and with the aid of these, finally, the flow and rhythm, as it were, of a meaningless language. The next step was to find a corresponding grammatical lilt in other tongues, regardless of their nearness or remoteness to the Tuscan habitat. After diligent searching-since phenomena of PHENOMENA that strike us as new and novel, things we meet for the fi rst time, are apt to
more » ... t time, are apt to produce in u� a certain feeling of awe, curiosity and surprise, at the same time of gratifi cation. They fi rst enter our exist ence as merely personal experience, manifesting them selves as sensations. Not until these feelings have died away is reflection added-that intellectual faculty by which we appreciate the value, or otherwise, of the new phenomenon, each of us at fi rst only insofar as his own personality is concerned. It is only some con siderable time afterwards, when novelty has given place to habit, that we begin to think of the import ance the new fact is likely to have for the community. If in this connection we fi nd it to be of importance for our life and to exert a favorable effect, we call it a "factor of civilization, " thus meaning that the new fact assistfl us in satisfying our vital heads, permeating and ennobling them, with a less expenditure of energy and matter than had previously been possible. May we in this sense term electricity a factor of civilization, may we assert that it permeates and en nobles our vital needs? Can we prove that electricity, more than any other means at our disposal, enables us to practise economy in the household of the indi vidual, as well as in the household of the nation, und the household of nature? The existence of modern man fl uctuates between work and leisure. between the hustle of business and the quiet of home life. What important part electricity il:! called upon to play in this connection, a superfi cial • Abstract of a lecture delivered at the general meeting of the Society of Electricians, Berlin, on December 2d, 1911. glance will show. You will doubtless agree with me in saying that a really exhaustive discussion of the infl uence of electricity on the form of our civilization is neither necessary nor possible in the short time at our disposal. Let it, therefore, suffice, in order to form an opinion, to discuss the fundamental importance of electricity in these fi elds and to examine a few typical instances. It is only as regards its domestic uses that electricity does not enjoy undisputed recognition; many a prejudice has yet to be overcome, many a distrust to be rem oved; before the importance of electricity in civilization becomes generally acknowledged in this fi eld which perhaps touches us most closely. Looking back we see the fi rst important application of electricity in the fi eld of transportation. Electrical telegraphy and later on telephony enabled us to solve the fundamental problem of inter-communication, the overcoming of time and space in a manner such as to satisfy the most optimistic dreams. The safety and rapidity in the transmission of news were thus im proved to a degree unknown and hardly thought of, and a� all civilization is based on co-operation, which in turn depends on an exchange of views and ideas as rapid as possible, we at once realize the cultural im portance of electricity in this field. I have only to ftmind you of the marvelous rescue of ships in distress by wireless telegraphy, of the rapid and effective aid made possible by electricity in the case of great catas trophies or of the prompt and successful warnings and preventive measures in the approach of epidemics, to show how well electricity Is capable of assisting the most primitive and original of all human instincts, © 1912 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. INC that of self-preservation. So far, however, from being limited to this "defensive" part, it aids most actively in the development of active traffic. The enormous condensation and increase of traffic produced by the adoption of steam power would not have been possible, had not electricity, by an accurate and rapid transmission of news as well as by other arrangements, such as electric lighting systems, elec tric loading plants, turn-tables, etc., improved at the same time the conditions under which this traffic is pre pared, effected and ensured. Electricity announces the approach of trains and anticipates their departure; electricity controls the signals and regulates the shunt!!, guides the trains into their paths and bids them stop if there is any danger, in fact, electricity safeguards and controls the whole of traffic, and the fine network of wires it requires on its way has become its nervous system. However. in spite of the undoubted import ance of a well-working nervous system for any living organism, this would be dead but for its heart and muscles, powerless without any driving force. Elec tricity has also been able to undertake this function at first in tramway operation. Electric tramways more than any other means of communication combine speed and safety, frequency of trains and cheapness of travel. Other important factors are the central regu lation (and accordingly high economy) in the produc tion of power, the adaptability to the requirements of traffic, elimination of smoke, soot and dirt, economy of time and possibilities of an adequate separation between residential quarters and centers of business. The same reflections apply to the electrification of trunk railways:
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican07271912-55supp fatcat:aolnb46tbbh3xip2dycalcnwnq