Art and Culture Philosophy Titanic

That’s the problem with the wireless generation

Written by Stuart Wickes

Photo: The Wireless Room, Wireless Mystery Theatre

What is it with technology? At the same time as it connects us it disconnects us. On our recent Titanic themed tour of Belfast we took in a production of The Wireless Room by the Wireless Mystery Theatre which got me thinking about two different wireless generations. The one in the play. And the one sitting opposite me in another world in Maggie May’s cafe.

The problem with the wireless generation

All I want to do is talk but no-one else seems interested. That’s one of the problems of this wireless generation. And at times I’m as guilty as the rest of them of tapping away on my iPhone when there are people around I could be talking to.

Having breakfast in Belfast’s Maggie May’s I want to talk about The Wireless Room, find out what everyone thought of the Wireless Mystery Theatre’s Titanic themed radio play we saw the night before, but everyone’s disconnected in a connected kind of way.

Is anybody listening?

“What did you think of the show last night then?” I blurt into the ether. But all I get is radio silence. ‘Is there anybody out there?’ I wonder, much as they must have done that cold April night.

Hannah’s playing Ice Age on her DS. Cameron’s collecting Mega Jump coins on his iPod touch. Kirstie’s checking her email while Matthew’s trying to figure out whether there’s Wi-fi in the cafe. For a change my phone is in my pocket and I know how everyone feels when they can’t reach me. Strange how the technology that connects us isolates us.

But it’s not always so. On the night the Titanic sank the Marconi wireless operators and their simple transmitter were a lifeline, the only means by which  the stricken vessel could  reach out for help. Using only dots and dashes.

Only dots and dashes

“Why did they use that morse code thing?” asks Cameron suddenly, without looking up “Why didn’t they just ring for help?”

No wonder the kids found the play confusing. A radio play, but on a stage, about a wireless room on a sinking ship, inhabited by 2 wireless operators, the only people on the ship who had the very latest ‘wireless technology’, but could only call for help using an obscure code, and could only reach people  with special receiving equipment, if they were within a few hundred or maybe a thousand miles, depending on the weather and time of day. It’s probably not a world kids today can easily understand.

Come quickly danger CQD

Dots and dashes into the ether… CQD.. Come Quick Danger

“So there’s no Wi-fi then?” says Matthew joining in.

I’m not sure if he’s talking Maggie May’s or the Titanic but I’m grateful for his contribution.

“No, there was no Wi-fi, no mobile phones, no satellite comms, GPS or two way radio. The only way to send a message off that ship was with dots and dashes.”

“What like pictochat?”

Heroes from another wireless generation

Perhaps they’ll never get it. But I did. The men of the wireless room, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips, were quiet unsung heroes, not mariners but technicians, the single point of contact with the world beyond the berg struck ship, calling for help in a way no-one else on board could, in conditions of extreme stress, until the water almost reached their feet. Heroes, saviours and pioneers of a very different wireless generation.

Photo: Wireless Operator Harold Bride in The Wireless Room, Wireless Mystery Theatre

Back at the Malone Lodge Hotel later that night we find ourselves glued to another kind of screen, watching a documentary on the Costa Concordia. But at least we’re watching together and it’s a kind of shared if unsettling experience. This time you can see and hear it all, caught on camera: videos, photos, phone-calls and radio transmissions, all recorded as it happened by passengers, crew and rescue teams. It leaves nothing to the imagination. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

This post is part of our Tales of Titanic Cities Tour.

We’ visited Liverpool and Belfast to find out more about how the two cities are connected to Titanic, joined in the Titanic Festival and tried to  figure out what the story of the Titanic has to teach us one hundred years on.

Read these other posts from our Titanic Season.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


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