Theresa Catharina de Góes Campos



Theresa Catharina de Góes Campos

In Ancient Egypt, most of the drawings had political overtones, although a good number of them simply represented ordinary scenes or just a moment of criticism. One of the best known: a deer is playing chess (a game similar to chess) with a lion and, before the end of the match, the lion takes over the bet. The deer symbolized the naïve and defenseless citizens who dared to play with Pharaoh Ramses the Second.

Another very first cartoon, in the history of communication – the highest Egyptian authority is disguised as a wicked cat guiding a band of innocent ducks …

In Rome, at the time of Caesar, the news was transmitted by word of mouth to the most far away provinces, thus confirming Homer’s verses referring to “words with wings”. People believed in the goddess of Fame, one of many in the Greek-Roman mythology. They thought Fame was a divinity with one hundred eyes, ears and mouths.

In the vast empire of Alexander the Great, all kinds of information from distant places were brought to the Emperor by his special civil servants, called “the king’s eyes and ears”, the predecessors of modern spies.

In the New World, the Governor of Virginia declared, in 1671: “Thank God we have no free schools nor printing shops and I hope that in the next hundred years we still won’t have them. Wisdom has generated disobedience, heresy and cults in the world; and the press has been spreading these things and insults against the government. Deliver us, o God, from both free schools and newspapers.”

After Gutenberg printed, in 1437, the first book in the world – “The Last Judgement” – a conference held in Germany to discuss his invention came to the following conclusion: “… while it is interesting, it will never be of great significance because so few people can read.”

Some monarchs, though, were clever enough to realize the great importance of the press. They so much wanted to get hold of its secrets that they chose special messengers for the mission of stealing Gutenberg’s plans. Charles II, of France, as well as Henry VI, were among the European kings who sent their envoys to spy the inventor's printing office.

Seventy years after the Pilgrim’s arrival and almost two centuries after Columbus discovered America, the United States had its first newspaper, issued in Boston on September 25, 1690 and printed in equipment operated by hand, in a wooden cabin. It was called “Public Occurrences” and the fourth page showed no text so the readers would
write their own news. The first number became the last one, due to the
criticism of two reports and also to the public outcry against its
appearance itself. The first news referred to English troops attacking
the French, in Canada. Benjamin Harris, the editor of “Public
Occurrences”, was immediately arrested.

The Congress of the United States used to greet with loud laughs and giggles the man who invented the telegraph. Samuel Morse’s project was looked upon as a foolish, ridiculous thing. It took lots of persistence until the inventor got the credit he desperately needed to put his plans into practice. Using the funds approved in 1843, the first test took place on May 22, 1844 and it was a huge success.

Sir William Breece, then chief engineer of Britain’s post office was asked, soon after Alexander Bell invented the telephone, in 1876, if it was likely to affect his country. Breece replied – “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys”.

The same pessimistic attitude was found among the “experts” who evaluated the potential of television; one of them said: “………….Commercially and financially, consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”

Now that we know they were all proved wrong, it is easy to pinpoint the reasons which account for the survival of radio and newspapers, despite the advent of television.

We are also led to think more about the contemporary news in a way which will foresee the years to come and its technological progress already taken for granted in our thoughts. We might even be tempted to think of ourselves like some kind of scientists with our vision and understanding of things yet to come. We are still amazed at Alexander Bell, who predicted the flying machine in 1877, a forecast that scientists of the time thought it was preposterous. According to historian Robert V. Bruce, in 1896 Bell was working with and backing financially Samuel P. Langley, who almost won the race with the Wright brothers into the skies with the first airplane.

But the Brazilian scientist Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first to really fly! (October 23, 1906).

The “teacher of the deaf” – as Bell liked to describe himself – sponsored in 1909 the Silver Dart, which Douglas McCurdy flew off a frozen lake near Bell’s home at Baddeck, Cape Breton. That was “the first heavier-than-air flight in Canada, and the first by a British subject in the British Empire.” Though the telephone inventor’s mathematics were too elementary – and some argue that because of this Bell was not really a scientist – he backed Albert Michelson’s experiments in measuring the speed of light. From these experiences, undertaken in 1881, came the data on which Einstein based his theories of relativity. This is another reason to fully justify the folks’ pride in Brantford, Ontario. When Alexander Bell immigrated with his family from Scotland, in 1870, at age 23, his parents settled there, while he went to work in Boston.

The arguments on whether Bell was a scientist or not just don’t change my mind. I think it is reasonable to conclude that his wisdom proved itself great enough to use the information known at the time for practical purposes of short and long range. His knowledge had the ability to grasp the importance of projects still in the early stages and foresee their development. Instead of laughing at new ideas, Bell would study and encourage their pioneers with funds and moral support. I guess he was always too busy to waste time resorting to negative criticism or giggles.

If we learned anything from these historical recollections, we should start making a review of our ideas and personal reactions to whatever seems hard to believe nowadays. The golden rule is to avoid any pessimistic statement regarding projects so advanced we are tempted to reject them as if they were science fiction. Nothing is really fantasy. Dreams just happen to come before accomplishments, following a very common pattern we have to get used to recognize it. What is education worth, anyway, if we don’t use it in a comprehensive, intelligent way? It should be a tool not a parcel to be stored away. The education of every human being, the result of the contributions of many, cannot be owned individually. Many others expect and demand their share. We have no right to hold it back.

Theresa Catharina de Góes Campos
Brasília-DF, 1966

Jornalismo com ética e solidariedade.