I Bought a Radio
I bought a radio. Took it out of the box. Plugged it in. Voila! Sound! Voices! Music!
As I stood staring at this beautiful little wooden box that emanates my favorite music, shares stories from all around the world, brings the latest news, weather reports, and everything else that keeps me informed, and then the thought occurred to me, what if I my five-year-old granddaughter asked me, “Grammie, how does it work?”
Where would I begin? How would I explain it?
Oh, how grand it is, that we live in the age of Google. In fact, Google would not even exist, let alone the internet, if it weren’t for Heinrich Hertz, the unassuming German physicist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves and created the prototype for an instrument to receive radio waves. Today, when measuring the frequency of radio waves, we use the term megahertz, so named after Heinrich Hertz.
The Wikipedia article on Hertz gives an interesting picture of a heritage that could produce a young man who would give the world the ability to tap into invisible energy waves resulting in multiple forms of communication. Hertz laid the first bricks on the road for the information highway. If he came back to visit our world today, he would humbly reject the notion that he brought us such an amazing thing as the internet, let alone a simple radio. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia on Hertz's shy acknowledgement of his accomplishment:
Hertz concluded his months of investigation and reported the results obtained. He did not further pursue investigation of this effect, nor did he make any attempt at explaining how the observed phenomenon was brought about. Hertz did not realize the practical importance of his radio wave 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 mysterious electromagnetic waves that we cannot see with the naked eye. But they are there.
True genius stumbles upon greatness, just as heroes never set out to be anyone’s savior. Yet genius is not something that happens like a bolt of lightning. Genius requires a certain soil that produces the outstanding sprout that must be cultivated with care.
Hertz came from good stock as they say. Relatives on both sides of his family going back for generations were highly educated professionals, artisans, and community leaders. He showed an early aptitude for science and language later cultivated by a top-quality education that resulted in a Ph.D. in physics.
I thought about this from the standpoint of the value of a great education. Here we are, living at a time in America when the discussion rages on about our diminishing capacity as the world’s economic engine. Our short-sighted national dialogue blames globalization and immigration as the culprit. Instead of looking toward the future, Americans want to go back to the good old days of manufacturing widgets for the world.
Those widgets were invented by early American inventors who without a decent education, be it at a renowned university or self-taught, none would have been able to propel their ideas toward production without a foundational knowledge of their subject.
One of my all-time favorite books, “They Made America” by Harold Evans, speaks to our times and shows us how to find inspiration through a dedicated discipline. It’s a book that you could certainly give as a gift to your children, grandchildren or any student you may know. Buying books as gifts to share knowledge is one way that we can mitigate the onslaught of ignorance that is choking our country. And if you are one who buys books, please go to your favorite independent bookseller and support a local merchant, which will help to strengthen our economic roots.