By Evan Ackerman
“Hardly anyone knows that a secret tunnel runs deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. In May 2008, more than a century after it was begun, the tunnel will finally be completed. Immediately afterwards, an extraordinary optical device called a Telectroscope will be installed at both ends which will miraculously allow people to see right through the Earth from London to New York and vice versa.”
I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble when I reveal that the Telectroscopes (designed by artist and inventor Paul St George) are connected not by a tunnel but by fiber optic cabling, and an HD camera and projector on either end provide live streaming video. But who really cares, you can still look in one end of this device in New York and see out the other in London. You’ll find one end next to the Brooklyn Bridge, and the other across the pond, next to Tower Bridge.
Interestingly, the concept for this device has been around for over a century. Read about its origins, and check out a picture from one of the apertures, after the jump.
“The Telectroscope started off as a totally unintentional hoax in the 1870s,” explains St George, who is the leading expert on this forgotten backwater of Victorian technology. “It came about through an error. A French editor misread a report about the invention of a thing called the Electroscope – which is all to do with static electricity – and called it a Telectroscope. He also misinterpreted its purpose.
“The fascinating thing is that his misunderstanding of what it did – to communicate face to face over a vast distance – really caught fire. People really liked the idea, which promised what was called ‘the suppression of absence’. Mark Twain and other writers became fascinated by it.”
The unbuilt fantasy Telectroscope was so popular that it produced, in 1879, a cartoon in Punch in which a Pooter-like couple sit watching a screen over the mantelpiece as they “converse gaily with their children in the Antipodes”. It was a drawing-room joke, but one that represented a theoretical protoype for the videophone or the webcam.