Masaryk, tech visionary?

24-01-2015

One is so used to black-and-white photographs depicting Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the founder of Czechoslovakia, as stern, dignified, even iconic looking that a video posted on YouTube in which he playfully speaks to camera is almost startling.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in November 1929, photo: YouTubeTomáš Garrigue Masaryk in November 1929, photo: YouTube The clip was recorded at the Lány presidential residence by Fox Movietone News in November 1929, when the country’s first president was 79, and really is extraordinary.

In it, the tatínek (daddy) of the Czechoslovak nation addresses viewers in America in heavily-accented English – and outlines a remarkable dream of the future.

Charmingly he begins his talk with a reference to the weather, which is fine, he says, after the fogs (though it does sound rather like fox) of the last week.

With a twinkle in his eye, he then points to the camera, saying he has yet to see and hear the “new film”. This was not long after the arrival of talkies.

The Lány presidential residence, photo: YouTubeThe Lány presidential residence, photo: YouTube It is, he goes on in scratchy video and audio, a great invention of America – and no doubt not the last the country will produce.

But the grinning president goes further, quite a bit further. If I observe the inventiveness of our modern scientists, he says, I sometimes fancy a much greater invention: To see and hear in the distance, without any wire.

From your sitting room, you could observe the jungles of Africa and what the wild beasts are doing there.

And more, says Masaryk, you could see and hear what the jungles of our human society are doing. This would force every man to be honest and the secret plotting of “all the wickedness” would come to an end. “Wonderful, no?”

Photo: YouTubePhoto: YouTube Frankly, I’m not quite sure what the great man was outlining. Some kind of a benign universal live CCTV system meets wireless internet?

Whatever, the fact he was suggesting this 85 years ago – a mere three years after the first transatlantic telephone call – shows striking vision and imagination.

Masaryk’s outlining of his tech dream is followed by an almost comical series of rough edits of him standing in the grand gardens of Lány Chateau near Prague (where he was to die almost eight years later).

In the next clip of him speaking he says that we Europeens [sic] can learn a lot from America.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, photo: YouTubeTomáš Garrigue Masaryk, photo: YouTube He himself has learned something valuable in Washington, he explains, specifically from a good horseman who told him that one’s lungs took in twice as much air while riding as walking.

So, says the almost 80-year-old Masaryk, I am going to take my morning ride.

24-01-2015