A Rogers State University professor’s research into the legacy and impact of pneumatic tubes attracted some international attention this month when a British popular-science magazine used it as the basis for a feature article on the devices.
An editor for the New Scientist, which has a global readership of about 3 million each week, discovered the research as Associate Professor Holly Kruse presented her work at a conference of the Association of Internet Researchers held last year in Manchester, England.
Kruse found that, a century before the advent of the Internet, many thought another cutting edge communication network would usher in a new golden age of information.
Some expected pneumatic tubes, which use air to push pill-shaped packages quickly and efficiently, to replace a hand-delivery postal service and even to make home kitchens obsolete, according to Kruse’s research. If food could be delivered cheaply and easily, why bother cooking?
“Whenever there are new information and communication technologies, there is always a Utopian discourse about how it will bring us closer together. It’s happened with every new communication technology,” Kruse said.
Unfortunately for pneumatic-tube enthusiasts, the technology never caught on the way many had predicted. However, it has found a home in some niche industries where the efficient transportation of physical goods over a short distance is paramount, Kruse said. For example, hospitals use them to transport drugs and tissue samples.
“We should be careful not to buy too much into the talk of Utopia when a new technology is introduced,” Kruse said. “But on the other hand, we shouldn’t be too quick to completely dismiss old information and communication technologies either.”