My world is about 60 years out from the start of mainstream industry (that's vague: roughly late 19th/early20th century, earth frame) . For my convenience, I gave the world the gadgets I need them to have, and I withheld others.

They have pipelines, power lines in the cities, and refineries. They have automobiles and other automated tools, and still have horse/buggy. I now plan to exclude security cameras, since the answers uniformly indicate that's a problem, and I agree. But, power lines in the cities are still in place. Too much depends on those. Perhaps lines between cities are not yet laid because of distance.

They don't have telephones, or the telegraph. This is for my convenience as an author. I want inter-city communication to be inconvenient. They have newspapers and couriers, but no instant communication technology. There is one electrified fence; there is electricity.

Is it reasonable that my world would not have telephones? In light of the fact that they have cars and electrical wires. Telephones are such a work saver. I don't know if it is believable that in this world they wouldn't. Maybe the technology is so simplistic that any civilization would figure them out.

Is it reasonable that my world would not have telephones?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cameras and power lines should be scrapped. They can easily be used as a mean of communication. Your progress essentially should stop before the invention of telegraph. I think your world would be heavily leaning toward Steampunk setting. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 26 '17 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest that it is not impossible but is perhaps a little unlikely especially if they are sophisticated enough to have security cameras. Do you really need electricity? If not that would help a lot. Or at least if electrical technology was very behind for some reason. Presumably you don’t want telegraph either? You could ask another question here if you have some electrical device that you need to replace to see if anyone can dream up a non electrical alternative. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Sep 26 '17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ I'll edit some things in the post to indicate the progression of my thoughts. thank you for all the feedback so far. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 26 '17 at 18:40

Kill Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell is responsible for one of the most amazing pieces of theoretical physics in human history: Maxwell's Equations. He did not realize it at the time, and nor did a certain mister Heinrich Rudolph when he later proved that these equations accurately describe reality:

[He] did not realize the practical importance of his [experiments]. He stated that,

"It's of no use whatsoever[...] this is just an experiment that proves Maestro Maxwell was right—we just have these [waves] that we cannot see with the naked eye. But they are there."

Asked about the ramifications of his discoveries, he replied,

"Nothing, I guess."

Herr Hertz had just then discovered radio.

If in your world you would kill off the equivalent of Maxwell you could then postulate that the advent of radio was seriously delayed. Also you might want to postulate that telephones were actually advanced and came earlier.

Now why would you want to do that?

Well... because wires.

enter image description here

The Stockholm Telephone Tower in 1890

The sooner you get telephones into the picture, the more chaotic the situation will be. If you can saturate the air with wires, and create a wild network of telephone wires in and between cities, then you will run into serious problems of actually getting them to work, especially if there is no other technology that can help you keep the telephone network working smoothly.

If there then also is no radio or radio telegraph between cities, then you have a setting where it becomes difficult to maintain reliable inter-city communication.

Things to add to the mix:

  • Sabotage between rival companies, many of them perhaps not being entirely — or even remotely — legitimate
  • Theft of high value copper wires
  • Constant solar eruptions that cause geomagnetic storms which fry wires or cause "lightning" to come out of them

As for security cameras... yes, drop them, because if you can transfer video reliable you sure as heck can transfer audio. The challenge between the two differs by an order of magnitude.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, the progress went from telegraph to telephone to radio. By the time radio communications became reality, intercity phone lines were commonplace, and telegraph lines (including transatlantic one) were established for decades. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 26 '17 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ Aha. You just gave me an idea for another 'magic' person in my world, one who can naturally perceive radio waves, May I use that? I will also consider telephone lines that are incredibly complex like Stockholm's. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 26 '17 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @DPT Go ahead, you may use it. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 26 '17 at 20:16


According to Wikipedia, telephone was patented in 1876; and the Industrial Revolution lasted from "about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840". That means that 104 years passed between the start of our Industrial Revolution and Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone.

If you want a world in which Britain has been undergoing an industrial revolution for 60 years, but they haven't invented telephones yet, look no further than Earth.

Do note that the Morse telegraph was patented in 1837, 77 years after 1760. There were earlier systems that allowed communication at the speed of light, most notable semaphore, but the Morse telegraph was the first to be commercially successful and receive widespread use.

As for your other inventions:

Automobiles came into their own in the late 1800s. If you want to stick strictly to technologies available in 1820 (and there is absolutely no reason that you need to), you might want to leave those out.

The first closed-circuit television system was designed in 1942. As it was basically a collection of television cameras wired to send stream signals to a central control room, you're not going to have systems like it appearing before the inventions of radio and television. Film photography wasn't even functional yet in 1820 (with the oldest surviving photograph having been taken in 1826); however, photosensitive chemicals had been known to exist since 1720s, with silver chloride having been noted as particularly sensitive to light in 1777. So it's conceivable that photography could've been developed earlier. You won't get live feeds with film, but you might be able to hire someone to take pictures of people who are acting suspiciously.

Newspapers. They've been around since the 1600s. No problem there.

In summary: You absolutely could have a world in which an industrial revolution like our own British industrial revolution has been going on for sixty years, but in which nobody's designed a telephone. Our own world is an example of that. However, if you want to have all of the other technologies you mention, you might want to set your story a little later in time and/or handwave the development of some things a bit.

  • $\begingroup$ Most of the technologies the OP mentioned do not fit at a 1820s setting -power lines, automobiles, refineries, automated tools etc. This description resembles something like the 1890s or 1900s, and by then a telephone (or alike) is very likely to appear. $\endgroup$ – Laetus Sep 26 '17 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ Laetus nailed the timeframe. I wonder if the telegraph could be available, but without operators. Messages could perhaps be sent and received, but would be recorded (ticker tape eg) until the recipient checked their graphmail. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 26 '17 at 18:51

In short - some form of near instant communication will almost surely appear. A telephone will too, most likely.

The telephones where preceded by the telegraph, which in turn replaced Semaphore lines. The latter doesn't use any complex technology at all, and both were developed very early and preceded many of the technologies you mention. Even the radio appeared shorty after automobiles.

Moreover, fast communication is crucially important for economic and political reasons, hence a lot of people/corporations/governments will push to develop such possibilities.

In reality, the telephone was being developed simultaneously by various people, and the basic concept was relatively widely discussed.

At best, I can imagine a short delay (a few decades) of it's appearance. But even then, you almost certanly will have a telegraph (which was reasonably fast).

As a side note, video cameras are a huge anachronism in your story. Such technology (that requiers automatic recording and storing/transmitting a large quantity of video) did not appear until the second half of the 20th century.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I'll omit the cameras. I wonder if population size is relevant. Or the lack of war on my planet. These both drive progress. A world with only ~1 million people and no war might have a radically different technological evolution. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 26 '17 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ A population size may change things, but that depends on population density. If the vast majority of the people live in one small area, then yes, telephones will be low priority. The direct opposite is true if the population is thinly spread out - you really need to communicate in such world. As for warfare - all those inventions were strictly peace-time ones. $\endgroup$ – Laetus Sep 26 '17 at 19:03

The simple answer is "no."

Technology Dichotomy

I ran a micropublisher for 10 years and during that time I coined the phrase "technology dichotomy." It describes an author's desire to, for example, want time travel without the invention of the wheel. In your case, all the technology for telephones exists... but not the telephones. The only way that could happen is that no one felt the need to communicate over a distance.

The problem is that people in a factory will quickly wish they had the ability to make announcements to their staff (public address system), just as quickly they'd wish they could talk to Anita in Human Resources on the other side of the building (intercom), and two seconds they came up short on some inventory item, they'd wish they could talk to their vendor on the other side of the city (telephone).

People have been expressing the idea of long-distance communication since the invention of smoke signals, drums, horns, telescopes, flags, semaphores... all of which pre-dated the Industrial Revolution. To have a world without telephones, you must either have a physical reason they don't work (a world without electricity... that would be hard to swallow... or a world without local magnetism... which would be even harder to swallow) or you need to have a reason why all these previous technologies for long-distance communication didn't exist.

The Argument for Telepathy

Off the top of my head, the only reason I can think of why long-distance communication technology was never developed is that it was never needed. Telepathy solves that problem (assuming it's viable world-wide), but the moment someone moves out of the range of telepathy, the desire for communication would immediately evolve.

But if you use something like telepathy, then other technologies based on communication may be effected. How would you do movies? Without the need for broacast video and audio (other than for storage purposes... but would telepaths evolve ears?).

Telepathy is a messy solution because of all the interdependencies. Which is why I started with the simple answer, "no."


What if they were able to create telephones, but they're just incredibly superstitious about telephones?

Negative attitudes to photo taking have been present in a few cultures, for example some Native Americans being opposed to having their photo taken (supposedly in case it will steal your soul, but I can't find a good enough source on this other than this so I'm not sure on the truthfulness of Native Americans being opposed to photo taking or whether it's just a TV thing). Similarly, the people in your world could be worried that their voice could be recorded and a piece of their soul would be trapped.

There are also a lot of superstitions surrounding mirrors, which could also be relevant - for instance, the idea that they can be used for scrying - and hence listening in - could be relevant to the idea of superstition around telephones because: "what if someone or something is listening in on me when I'm near the telephone?".

Additionally, a lot of horror movies make use of mirrors, as either a gateway for demons or a place to see (or trap) the souls of the dead. I found this list of horror films that make use of phones, however they mostly seem to be used more for communication with the dead. Overall, phones could be considered as just another way to let Bad Things into our houses - a little like when people are opposed to ouija boards, except phones are more practical.

(Unfortunately I just noticed this doesn't solve the issue of the lack of telegraph)


It wouldn't be impossible to imagine a world where the harmonic telegraph exists and pneumatic tubes replace the telephone for inter city communication (kind of like in the Alec Baldwin "The Shadow" film). No technology is guaranteed to be developed in a sequential or timely fashion. There are always examples of what seem, in retrospect, to be obvious developments that just didn't make it to market or get acceptance. Business is driven by human needs as much as technological progress, perhaps there was a really powerful messenger union that kept sabotaging Alexander Graham Bell's telephone demonstrations or Thomas Watson was successful in helping Bell create the harmonic telegraph and the funding for a telephone dried up.


I do not know what your goal is with the no telephones thing but one way to accomplish it would be if the technology existed but it were unreliable. E.g. because another newfangled but quickly spreading technology caused interference or for the signal to degrade within short distances. For example if every household had its own generator and they were unshielded. It could also be due to some natural phenomenon like constant strong solar winds. And maybe they don't know what causes it so they just pronounce the technology useless and abandon it because another, commercially more successful means of communication takes away the incentive to find out how they could improve on it.


Maybe a world where there is a much greater impact from solar radiation. You can read about some the effects is could have here:


If a world were being hit regularly by events like that described, electrification would be a far trickier proposition. There would be a huge problem of insulating wiring from the radiation, so it wouldn't get fried every second Tuesday, say.

Maybe they could only run power through buried insulated wires, this leaves the possibility of power for some highly desired industrial use, while making long overland projects, and home electrification quite difficult and expensive.

I suppose there could some health considerations for the inhabitants of such a world, if they aren't fully adapted to the radiation levels.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Neil. That adds an interesting twist. I wonder if there could be periodic bursts of radiation from my binary stars. Or, maybe only when they are in conjunction with the planet is the radiation problematic. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 27 '17 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly yes. If one star was stripping matter from the other say, then maybe that process could be like a continually raging solar storm, I guess... $\endgroup$ – Neil W Sep 27 '17 at 14:14

First, yes scrap cameras that is a whole can of worms that you simply don't want in this scenario.

Second, yes this is possible.

Electricity is fairly simple compared to telecommunications. Telecommunications relies on variable electrical output to construct data. Sequences of 1's and 0's that ultimately means something to someone or something. It could very well be that no one has yet thought of trying to use these as a means of transmitting information.

By cars I hope you don't mean ones with computers. This inherently means no computers.

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, you have no clue. We had telephones (ca.1876) for almost a century before they went "digital" (ca.: 1960). $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 26 '17 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ SMH, ok so not 1's and 0's but the fact they are using variable electrical output as data still remains true. My point is that this can be easily looked over in the progress of technological advancement. FYI here's how a telephone worked explainthatstuff.com/telephone.html $\endgroup$ – anon Sep 26 '17 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ If you use those kind of reference I'm not surprised you make a bit of confusion (FYI: I was working in telephone centrals when they still had [Stepping switches][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepping_switch] ca.: 1978 and I know by hart how an analog telephone works). The technology for (early) phones is actually the same as the first phonograph coupled with magnetic induction (dynamo). Not "rocket science", as Americans like to say (forgetting a rocket is about the simplest engine possible). $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 26 '17 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ ....ok.. how do you send the magnetic information from one device to another in this analogue system? I guarantee you its not magic... its variable electrical charges. If you know how a "dynamo" works this shouldn't be surprising. $\endgroup$ – anon Sep 26 '17 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. No way it could be overlooked for long. It is only matter of time once you get a grasp of magnetic induction and sonic waves. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 26 '17 at 18:13

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