Listening Topic: Technology – Conversation with a writer

A. Listen to an interview with the writer of a book about inventions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As you listen, check your answers to the quiz below.

Inventions Quiz

 Which of these products was invented by a bank clerk?

      a   photographic film

      b   the automobile

      c   the telephone

 What household appliance was first known as the radar range?

      a   the transistor radio

      b   the microwave oven

      c   the vacuum cleaner

 Which means of communication was invented first?

      a   the fax machine

      b   the telephone

      c   the television

 What office product did not sell for ten years after it came on the market?

      a   the calculator

      b   the photocopy machine

      c   the typewriter

B. Listen to the interview again. Choose the correct answer to complete each statement. Listen again if necessary.

 The writer is especially interested in ____.

      a   how the inventions were developed

      b   the inventors’ personalities

      c   the typewriter and the fax machine

 Eastman decided to invent photographic materials because ____.

      a   his vacation was canceled

      b   he didn’t enjoy his job

      c   his photographic equipment was too heavy to carry

 Many of the people who invented the new machines were ____.

      a   bank clerks

      b   curious experimenters

      c   professional scientists

 Percy Spencer discovered that ____.

      a   chocolate melts when you put it in your pocket

      b   popcorn pops in a microwave oven

      c   a magnetron could cause popcorn to pop

 The fax machine was not a success originally because ____.

      a   it was too difficult to use

      b   people preferred to use the telephone

      c   the telegraph was more popular

 The typewriter wasn’t popular because ____.

      a   letters were supposed to be handwritten

      b   people thought it was too difficult to operate

      c   it didn’t work very well



1 a   2 b   3 a   4 c


1 a   2 c   3 b   4 c    5 c   6 a


A = Presenter, B = Writer

A:   Can you tell us a little bit about your current project? What are you working on now?

B:   I’m writing a book about some of the most important technological inventions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s about how things like the typewriter or the fax machine were developed, and so on.

A:   That sounds really interesting.

B:   It is. It’s fascinating. The personalities behind the inventions are particularly fun to read about. Like … a lot of inventors were amateurs, and some of them were considered to be nuts … crazy! But they had this … incredible determination. They believed absolutely in what they were doing.

A:   Umm.

B:   Take George Eastman, for example. He was a keen photographer, and he was about to go on vacation to the Caribbean, to take pictures. But then the night before he was supposed to leave, he looked at all of this photo gear and in the 1870s the photo gear was incredibly cumbersome, all, you know, glass plates and chemicals and … equipment and so on – and he said to himself, “I’m not carrying all this stuff.” There’s got to be an easier way to take photographs! So he canceled his vacation, quit his job, stayed home, and invented film instead.

A:   That’s great!

B:   The gut was bank clerk, twenty-four years old! But that was the mood at the time, you know? Talk about a positive attitude! It was a real can-do spirit. People were asking questions: “Hmm. I wonder if we could have a machine that does this?” or, you know, “Why can’t we do that?” And then they would set out to do it, and they wouldn’t give up.

A:   But then they also discovered things by accident?

B:   Oh yes, like the microwave oven. The microwave oven was actually developed from the magnetron … that’s the power tube that drives a radar machine. One day, this scientist – Percy Spencer was his name – was standing next to a magnetron, and he had a chocolate bar in his pocket. And the chocolate melted. So he said, “Huh. That’s interesting.” So the next day he came in with popcorn, and guess what happened?

A:   Pop.

B:   Yes, And that essentially was where the idea of the microwave came from … just by chance, really. It was called a “Radarange” because of the radar. Of course, it took a while to be developed, and so on, but…

A:   But that happened too, didn’t it? A lot of things didn’t take off immediately, didn’t necessarily find a market, right?

B:   Right. Some products were just not in the right place at the right time. The classic example of that was the fax machine. I bet you didn’t know we had fax machines before we had telephones.

A:   Really?

B:   Yes. The French were using very effective fax machines in the 1860s, before the telephone, in fact. But the idea never took off. At that time, people were more interested in the telegraph.

A:   That’s amazing.

B:   Yes. People have to be ready for a new thing before they’ll accept it. It took Remington years to convince people to use a typewriter. Everybody said, “Oh, it’s great, it’s the wave of the future, it’s a wonderful machine,” but they wouldn’t, you know … for ten years it didn’t sell. And that was because letters were handwritten. That was what you did. There was a whole art to writing letters. People didn’t think it was appropriate to type them, because what was typeset was mainly used for advertising. So if people got a typewritten letter, they were either offended, or they thought it was junk mail.

A:   I guess you had to convince enough people at one time.

B:   Right! Eventually businesses started using them. And then everyone had to have one. But it took about ten years for the typewriter to become really popular.

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