Streaming Music To Phones Is Officially The Oldest Trick In The Book

from the remind-me-again-what's-so-"smart"-about-your-smartphone? dept

Everyone has a friend who’s seen everything, done everything and grown bored of everything. They’re everywhere. And if you don’t have a friend like this, a quick visit to any forum or comment thread will provide you with one of these "friends," whether you wanted one or not.

You know the type:


[Show friend your brand-new copy of "President Yo La Tengo."] "Have you heard these guys? They’re out of New Jersey, I think. They just kicked out this album.

Friend: [Underenthusiastic shrug] "Yeah. They used to be pretty good until they sold out and released their debut. I used to design guitar picks for them until they went mainstream. Pffft."

You: [Disappointed sigh]: "Well, it’s an awesome album. But it may be their last great one, I guess… I’m starting to like it less already… thanks."


"Whoa. Have you seen this? Just caught a few minutes of a working print for something called ‘The Matrix’. Mindblowing!

Friend: [Noncomittal headnod] "This thing’s been circulating the web since it appeared untitled on a Geocities page. It looks alright but I’m wondering why they didn’t go with Nick Cage like the original production notes stated. I worked with Lana for a couple of years as a scriptrunner. Maybe I’ll watch it when it comes to Blu-ray. "

You: [Frustrated and confused glare]: "Blu-ray?" "Lana?"


"I just got a leaked beta of "Civilization V"!

Friend: "Well, I hope they fix the siege AI. Everything I see on the alpha build of ‘VII’ is still in need of nerfing."

You: [Unitelligble growl that rises quickly to a full roar as you strangle your ‘friend’ with his own tongue while screaming] "YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT ONE COMING, DID YOU!! THIS IS MY CLOSED-BETA [kidney punch] PRE-RELEASE [rib kick] LIMITED 7-INCH [eye gouge] BEATDOWN!!! [sleeper hold]

So, it is in the spirit of vindictive upmanship that I bring you this handy bit of pre-knowledge from Scientific American, via Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

The next time your friend mentions some brand new streaming service that brings music to whatever shiny piece of early-adoption he’s currently using as a cellphone, sniff haughtily and backhand him (or her, although this really seems to be a "him" quality) verbally with this:

"Streaming music to a phone? Yeah, that’s alright if that’s the sort of thing that still impresses you. I’ve been streaming music to my phone for 120 years."[Note: you do not need to be over the age of 120 to make this statement. It would be much more awesome if you were, but it shouldn’t make your bombshell any less devastating.]

The July 2, 1892, Scientific American Supplement reported on the use of a device called the theatrophone that had been in use for two years already in Paris. The basic idea was to be able to call into a theater and hear live music being played. One could either subscribe to receive the service in home or utilize one of the theatrophones set up in various locales such as hotels, restaurants, vestibules, and cafes throughout the city.

While said friend is still trying to wrap his "been-there-done-that" mind around a concept that includes places he’s never been and things he’s never done, add insult to injury by pointing out how advanced this system was:

The theatrophone had 3 cables, 2 used for the transmission of music and the other for an alarm set for 5 minutes, keeping track of the listener’s time and changing theaters at each interval. If a listener happened to catch the live performance as it was ending or during an intermission, he would be wired into a different location for the remainder of time paid for. If all theaters were in an intermission, then the listener would be treated to recorded piano music so his money was not wasted.

As your friend devolves into a blind panic as he searches for a pre-19th century rebuttal, drop this final piece of science onto his trend-setting ass:

At the time of the article, there were 100 theatrophones installed in Paris running on 11 different lines, as well as a number of private subscribers who paid a fixed amount for a certain number of listenings in the home.

Subscription service? Streaming? Multiple users? Home version? Been there. [BAM!] Done that. [BOO-YAH!]

[Make some sort of victorious karate chop/touchdown/"suck it loser" motion and stroll away from the blubbering wreck of a human being you’ve left behind. Casually toss a $180 faux-vintage Pong shirt at him to dry his eyes on and head to the nearest forum/comment thread to gloat.]

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Comments on “Streaming Music To Phones Is Officially The Oldest Trick In The Book”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Tim, I hope you didn’t give up your day job (or drop your major in school) for this stuff. Holy crap, you are bad. Not only are you not funny, but you end up sounding like one of those tin foil hat nutjobs that everyone makes fun of.

It’s embarrassing to even read it, I can’t imagine how you feel to have your name attached to it.

A.R.M. (profile) says:

There's more to the story.

July 7, 1892
The PIAA sues the company responsible for delivering the “theatrophone” for copyright infringement. The company was found guilty and had to pay $150 million (dollars not adjusted), which forced them to shut down, leaving the few who paid without any service.

July 7, 2000
Deja vu. Just replace “theatrophone” with Napster and “PIAA” with RIAA.

July 7, 2153
Deja vu part two. Just replace “theatrophone” with human rights and “PIAA” with Disney.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Well

It would be fine, except the tech isn’t the same at all. Far from it.

A classic telephone is how you get sound and sound only from one place to another, controlled only by the sender, and at a time selected by the sender. The receiving end has two choices, listen or hang up.

A streaming service delivers digital content at the beck and call of the receiver, and the receiver controls the content. They can choose the music, they can choose the time they receive it. The sender is only an automated store house.

The logical conclusion based on Tim’s post is that sound has existing for millions of years, so anything that makes sound has already been done. We don’t need innovation, we have already innovated everything.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Well

We don’t need innovation, we have already innovated everything.

Combining two things in an obvious way can be innovation. Modern mobile phones + old way to listen to music over a phone = mobile music streaming.

But just because it is innovation doesn’t mean it deserves monopoly protection (patents).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well

The only issue is that this is not the case. Music streaming isn’t at all like listening to someone over the phone. The transmission methods are different, the controlling party is different, the content is different, and so on.

You can find similarities between almost anything if you want to look at it in a specific way. The internet is just an outcrop of cavemen painting on the walls.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tim, a little (unsolicited) advice:

Content: 95/100. Awesome job. Really enjoyable reading about this.
Commentary: 0/100. Seriously buddy, take it down a notch. You have things to talk about and can do that without the addition of whatever you were spewing forth up there. You’re a smart guy. You know how. You don’t need to grab a reader’s attention that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Calm down there buddy. I didn’t say not funny. I don’t believe I used the word ‘funny’ at all in my comment. I like Tim, and I always find something in his articles that I enjoy. I’m not trolling. I genuinely think he has a good point but gets a bit overexcited about making it.

P.S. I’m not funny.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, I appreciate the genuine constructive criticism, which is rarely delivered by anyone sporting the initials “AC”.

Some post ideas grab me as something to go “over the top” with and others are better off with a subtler touch. I’m not sure what I’m saying here but I think it has something to do with “this will probably happen again” but I won’t be doing it just to spite you (or anyone else), if that makes sense…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

This is the original AC in this thread (I’m no longer at work, so I’ll have a different snowflake: No offense intended from my end, and I certainly won’t take any if you said you were throwing out what I said because you totally disagree. It’s your article, not mine. I didn’t like the style in which this was written. I’m no writer so I don’t feel like I could do better, but I know what I’d like to see.

Off topic: I like being AC because I have a co-worker who occasionally posts trolling comments and it looks like I’m arguing with myself. I actually have an insider account but rarely log in anymore.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Believe It Or Not, That?s What Phones Were Originally About

As I recall, Alexander Graham Bell thought phones would be mainly used to listen to theatrical performances. The idea that they would end up primarily as a means for people to talk to one another took everyone by surprise.

We see a similar mistake being made today by those who think their proprietary content is somehow essential to the survival of the Internet.

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