Fribble Mark Twain and the Internet

September 27, 2000

Mark Twain loved gadgets. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written on the newly invented "typewriting machine." Twain even invested in a machine that was supposed to revolutionize the printing industry. Unfortunately, the Paige Compositor never caught on, and Twain lost a fortune. The author was forced to go on the lecture circuit to pay off his debts.

Twain had a peculiar love-hate relationship with the telephone. His household maid, Katy Leary, reported that "it took him a long time to get used to the telephone. He was always mad at it and always thought it was a nuisance" (New York Times - March 15, 1925).

Twain was quoted in the December 23, 1906 New York Times: "When I lived up in Hartford, I was the very first man, in that part of New England at least, to put in a telephone -- but it was constantly getting me into trouble because of the things I said carelessly." To Twain, the telephone was "...a time-saving, profanity-breeding, useful invention, and in America to be found in all homes except parsonages" (Letters to Satan, Europe and Elsewhere).

"Mark Twain would have loved the World Wide Web. For one thing, it's the latest gadget -- and Twain was always a sucker for gadgets... More to the point, if Twain were still with us, he would be the first to see in the Web a fresh opportunity to practice one of his favorite forms of recreation -- making himself conspicuous. And of course, as a self-described "citizen of the world," he would have felt right at home with the Web's instantaneous, planet girdling capabilities." (Peter Salwen's Mark Twain Page.)

Anything that enhanced the progress of human communication was appreciated by Mark Twain. The entire history of mankind is punctuated by landmarks in the evolution of communications technology -- papyrus, printing press, typewriter, telephone, radio, TV, and the Internet. Twain may have lost patience with the unreliable nature of the early telephone system, but he was still the first on the block to have one.

If Mark Twain were alive today, would he be complaining about slow Internet connections and people talking on cell phones while driving? Most assuredly, yes. Just imagine Twain, the avid technology investor, posting to The Motley Fool Discussion Boards!