E.B. White In 1964: ‘Should A Machine Be Allowed To Use The Telephone?’

From the October 24, 1964 New Yorker:

Senator [Jacob] Javits [of New York] told the Senate the other day that a right-wing group in Florida was using the telephone to spread tape-recorded messages of hate and distrust. Quite aside from the nasty political impact of this, a basic question of communication is involved. Should machine be allowed to use the telephone? We think not.

Or, rather, we think the regulations should be very right: only such canned messages as contribute to public health and safety should be permitted — a doctor’s answering service, a roundup of weather, a time signal, thinks like that. All other use of the phone should be live, with someone talking into the thing at one end and someone listening at the other end, even if it’s only a French poodle.

If we turn the facilities of the phone company over to machines, the possibilities for mischief are endless, the true purpose of communication is defeated, and the way is opened for the kind of abuse that is now causing concern.