Most of us accept that Wi-Fi is a necessary part of our daily lives. In fact, we’re so dependent on having a wireless connection that we can be downright unpleasant to be around if we can’t log on for some reason.
Next time it happens, though, instead of stamping your feet and rending your garments, stop to think about history and those poor unfortunates who never heard of a computer, nevermind Wi-Fi.
We’ll give you a head start, with these five historical figures for whom Wi-Fi might have made all the difference in the world:
1. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)
He went on to conquer most of Europe before his capture and eventual exile to the remote island of St. Helena.
But just imagine how different Europe would be if Napoleon hadn’t lost the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
When a battle is won or lost there usually are clear winners and losers simply. Rarely is there a draw, as it tends to be a battle to the death unless there’s some strange last-minute cease-fire. Now, even though Napoleon well and truly lost the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, his opponent, called it a “damned near run thing” — in essence saying it easily could have gone the other way.
Well, one of the primary reasons it is said that Napoleon lost the Battle and, thusly, his power, was a problem with communications.
Napoleon had no system in place to ensure that his orders were received by his subordinates. The fastest option open to him was to send someone on horseback. Besides the time it would take the horseman to arrive at his destination, there also was the risk that the messenger could be captured or killed along the way and the order would never reach its destination.
If Napoleon had a laptop and Wi-Fi, he could have sent an instant message with detailed instructions to his generals and received a near-instant reply to confirm receipt or request clarification.
And if that had happened? The messages sent on the morning of the battle with instructions to keep the Prussians in array would have arrived early enough and with minimal confusion – and thus no need to repeat the message hours later, by which time it was too late.
Eliminate that communication issue, Napoleon may well have gone on to win the battle of Waterloo and would never have been imprisoned on that island thousands of miles from the nearest mainland with no way of communicating with anyone, even his wife and child.
However, even if Napoleon still lost the battle of Waterloo and his destiny really was to end up on St. Helena, he could have spent his captivity blogging and could have rivaled Matt Drudge for readership. Unfortunately, the likelihood of there being Wi-Fi even today in St. Helena is remote, as we previously explained, but at least he could still have an Internet hookup.
2. Nostradamus (1503 – 1566)
But before he predicted the future, he was a great doctor who treated many people suffering from the Plague.
Now, if he’d had Wi-Fi he could have issued regular bulletins about how people could avoid or treat symptoms of the Plague.
Afterwards the Plague passed, he set up a business making cosmetics; it wasn’t until he was nearly 50 that he really started getting into the occult. The first edition of Les Propheties was published in 1555 and has been in print ever since.
Nostradamus adopted a curious way of writing his four-line verses known as quatrains. As he was concerned about religious fanatics, and rightly so, he deliberately concealed the meaning of his writings by playing with words and syntax, using different languages and other means of making his prophecies ambiguous.
Catherine de Médici, the consort of King Henri II of France was one of his admirers. She called Nostradamus to Paris in 1556 and asked him to explain his prophecies and predict what the future held for her and her family. He thought he might be beheaded for his words. However, it led to one of Nostradamus’s most famous predictions, which resulted in Nostradamus eventually gaining international recognition for his art.
Nostradamus declared that “a one-eyed man” soon would be king. He also said, “The young lion will overcome the older one, in a field of combat in a single fight. He will pierce his eyes in their golden cage, two wounds in one, and then he dies a cruel death.”
Three years later, on July 1, 1559, the king was involved in a freak accident during a friendly joust. His opponent’s lance slipped through the caged helmet and pierced his eye. He suffered a second wound in his throat and suffered for 10 days before dying a cruel death. For his last days he was, in effect, a one-eyed king. Nostradamus was fortunate that the Queen was fond of him and did not burn him at the stake for heresy.
After this prophecy came true, Nostradamus found himself in great demand and had to travel around to make his prophecies in person. He feared what might happen to him if he encountered religious leaders who didn’t like what he had say or that he said it at all.
He could have avoided the danger of travel if he’d had Wi-Fi. He could have bagged himself Nostradamus.com and set up a website dedicated to his prophecies, working remotely, possibly holed up in the hills.
Yes, the concept of telecommuting would have begun much earlier and we would be spared the hundreds upon hundreds of sites dedicated to Nostradamus today, claiming to translate the meaning of his words even though none can.
3. Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
The Renaissance man would have been able to broadcast his hidden messages and secret codes to a much wider audience with Wi-Fi. He could have taken us on a virtual trail of mystery and intrigue allowing us all to get a glimpse of what he was getting at, if indeed he was getting at anything, a lot sooner than we did.
One of the main advantages for Da Vinci would have created an alternate identity on the Internet and projected his insights and cryptic messages anonymously. This would have allowed him the freedom to express what he obviously felt was not safe to say in his time.
To say Leonardo was clever is an understatement. He wasn’t just a painter. He was a visionary, philosopher, anatomist, musician, physicist, architect, mathematician, geologist, inventor — well, frankly, one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived. He left behind images of many inventions way before their time such as the helicopter, solar power and calculators.
Da Vinci also would have been able to publish all his works, something it would appear he intended to do judging by the way his notes were laid out. He wrote in-depth on many subjects, complete with diagrams, but no one knows why these documents were not published in Da Vinci’s lifetime.
Today, the only major scientific work of Da Vinci’s that is in private hands is The Codex Leicester, which Bill Gates paid almost $31 million (making it the most expensive book in the world). Gates makes it available for viewing once a year in different cities. (He also scanned part of it and made that into screen savers for us mere mortals back in 1995 but that’s beside the point.)
The Codex Leicester is written in Leonardo’s mirror-style, and is perhaps the most famous of Leonardo’s writings. The book includes an explanation of why fossils appear on mountains and the movement of water; the luminosity of the moon, the sun and planets; and many other observations about the Earth and the skies above, long before these observations were officially proven by scientists.
Now, imagine Leonardo had Wi-Fi. He could have set up a Twitter account to share his thoughts and theories with the masses, 140 characters at a time. Scientific progress would have been accelerated incredibly.
One person who might have suffered, however, would have been Dan Brown, as he wouldn’t have had Leonardo’s mysterious writings as a focus for The Da Vinci Code.
4. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)
A naturalized American citizen born in Croatia, Nikola Tesla was a master of lightning, forgotten wizard, enigma, mysteriously exotic man who was not of this Earth. Obsessed with the number 3, suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and an utter genius, Tesla would certainly have benefitted from Wi-Fi and, by extension, so would all of us.
For starters, it might have helped prevent his being ripped off more than once, most famously by Edison, who said Tesla didn’t understand the American sense of humor when asked for the $50,000 Edison owed him.
In fact, with Wi-Fi, Tesla would have been able to make his thoughts and theories public more easily, particularly on free energy for the world and he would have been more likely to receive the necessary support from others to help him on his way.
Tesla wasn’t interested in money, but you would think that someone who practically invented the 20th Century would have lived out a life in relative comfort. Instead, Tesla died alone, in poverty, alone, in a New York hotel room at the age of 86 without the recognition he most certainly deserved.
After he died, the U.S. government quickly raided his hotel room and confiscated all his documents, notes and papers; his scribblings were classified Top Secret. We’ll never really know what Tesla was truly capable of.
Tesla would have been a natural for Wi-Fi. He even sort of saw the Internet coming (in a much more realistic way than Nostradamus). He wrote an article, “The Transmission of Electrical Energy without Wires,” published March 5, 1904, in Electrical World and Engineer, in which he said,
“I have no doubt that it will prove very efficient in enlightening the masses, particularly in still uncivilized countries and less accessible regions, and that it will add materially to general safety, comfort and convenience, and maintenance of peaceful relations.
It involves the employment of a number of plants, all of which are capable of transmitting individualized signals to the uttermost confines of the earth. Each of them will be preferably located near some important centre of civilization and the news it receives through any channel will be flashed to all points of the globe.
A cheap and simple device, which might be carried in one’s pocket, may then be set up somewhere on sea or land, and it will record the world’s news or such special messages as may be intended for it. Thus the entire earth will be converted into a huge brain, as it were, capable of response in every one of its parts.
Since a single plant of but one hundred horse-power can operate hundreds of millions of instruments, the system will have a virtually infinite working capacity, and it must needs immensely facilitate and cheapen the transmission of intelligence.”
The man truly lived well ahead of his time; if he’d had Wi-Fi, he no doubt would have beamed us all into the 21st Century decades earlier. We’d probably be stationed on Mars by now.
5. Anne Frank (1929 – 1945)
Many have been touched by the raw honesty of the diaries kept by this young Jewish girl kept in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. But consider if Anne had been able to link to the Internet via Wi-Fi from her attic hiding place in Amsterdam and had written her diary as a blog.
Perhaps Anne’s life, and history itself, might have been different? That’s what we’d like to think, anyway.
Anne got her first diary (actually an autograph album that she used as a diary) for her 13th birthday. Her first words, on June 12, 1942, were “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support”.
A couple of years later, after a speech on the radio, Anne realized the historical importance her diaries might one day have if they were made available to the general public a couple of years later.
In March 1944 the Dutch cabinet minister said in the speech, “History cannot be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents – a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest. Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory.”
That’s when Anne started re-writing her diary on sheets of paper and changing the names of her loved ones. Just five months later, on Aug. 1, 1944, she and her family were caught and arrested, before she’d had a chance to rewrite it all.
Some might ask if she truly intended for her diaries to be published. It would certainly seem so. Anne had high hopes of becoming a journalist.
“I want to go on living after my death,” she once wrote in her diary, a goal she certainly achieved.
But if she’d had Wi-Fi and had blogged about her situation as it was happening, might there have been a chance that this young girl’s first-person account could have opened people’s eyes to the true horror of the situation? Would more people have become aware sooner as to what truly was happening?
Or would a preponderance of blogs have drowned out her voice and today no one would ever have heard of her?
There’s no way of truly knowing. We prefer to think the former.