the “s” that changed the world

Posted: December 12, 2010 in A Day in the Life

Today, in 1901, an Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi successfully sent the world’s first radio transmission across the Atlantic.  As I sit at my laptop writing this, I realize that this accomplishment hardly seems noteworthy.  I mean, just a few moments ago I sent a tweet that wrapped around the world a few dozen times, probably within seconds.  But read on.

Marconi was born in 1874.  In this horse-drawn era, both in the transportation of people and information, Marconi became fascinated with the work that a German physicist named Heinrich Hertz was doing in the field of radio waves.  In that day and age, it was difficult, at best, to conceive of information being transmitted through the air.  I imagine that it was even considered a sort of heresy to the common, unwritten laws of known boundaries.  (I don’t know whether this was literally true, but thinking so makes me feel better about the ideas I’ve been having lately.)  Marconi was so fascinated that at the age of 20 he began conducting his own experiments.  Unsupported and, perhaps, misunderstood in Italy, Marconi packed his bags for England.  And in 1896, at the age of 22, Marconi started a wireless telegraph company and was sending transmissions farther than 10 miles away.  By 1899, he had succeeded in sending signals across the English Channel.  If you’re keeping track, he was 25 years old.  (What were you doing when you were 25?).  That year, Marconi brilliantly outfitted two U.S. ships with the equipment to transmit the America’s Cup Yacht Race to newspapers in New York.  This move garnered Marconi a certain respect and generated interest in Marconi and his company.  People began connecting the dots – rather, Marconi helped connect the dots for them – that not only was it possible to transmit radio signals over great distances, but that doing so could be quite useful.  He drew people in by making what was important to him relevant to the world.

On December 12th of 1901, he made his greatest achievement yet.  Marconi successfully transmitted a radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean.  By that point in time, there were many in the scientific and non-scientific community that were on board with the idea of radio transmissions.  Yet it was the unofficial scientific consensus of the day that transmissions over 200 miles would wander off into space, due to the curvature of the earth.  Marconi held that radio signals would follow the curvature of the earth.  And he was wrong.  But he was also lucky.  His transmission – which started in Cornwall, England and was bound for Newfoundland, Canada  – was indeed headed for the inner reaches of outer space, when it bounced off the ionosphere and pierced the sky for the very first time in history to come back down to our friends in the Great White North.  What a beauty way to go.  Marconi was right.  And Marconi was wrong.  And it was historic.  And Marconi’s transmission?  The single letter “s”, which travelled over 2,000 miles from England to Canada in mere moments.  Obvious Superman parallels notwithstanding, I think you’ll agree that this achievement was stunning all on its own both because of what it meant to the world in 1901 and what it would mean to the information-based world of 2010.

Today, my vast readership (all 12 of you), I charge you with remembering today that one idea can make a difference.  That you and I are today’s Marconis and that while we may sometimes be misunderstood, and at times, perhaps, even deemed heretics, our ideas can make a difference in the world.  That it may not end up looking exactly as we thought it would when we set out, but that in the end our contribution was real and felt.  That pressing forward in the areas of life where we feel most passionate and alive is something that the world needs, and that without our contribution, the world would be poorer for it.

As for me, I’m celebrating Marconi’s marvelous achievement by sending my “s” around the world, both literally and in my own way.  I’ll remember Marconi as I tweet and facebook and blog today.  But more importantly, I’ll remember that one idea can change the world.  And so, in the spirit of Guglielmo Marconi, idea-havers, and world-changers everywhere…..”s”.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Grow, frontburnercreative. frontburnercreative said: ideas can change things. check out jonathan grow's blog at: […]

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