On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first official telegraph message (“what hath God wrought”) from an experimental line that ran from the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court, which at the time was in the U.S. Capitol Building, to Baltimore, Maryland, about 40 miles away. As the technology evolved, it revolutionized the way people communicated over distances (the Thomas Edison quadruplex system eventually allowed for up to four messages to be transmitted simultaneously over the same line).
On May 25, 1915, 71 years after Morse sent the first official telegram, members of the New Jersey General Assembly placed one of the first transcontinental phone calls from a chamber in the State House (lit by an Edison Electric Light Co. chandelier) to the New Jersey Building at the Pan-American Exposition in San Francisco, California, in order to showcase the emerging technology of the day.
Fast-forward 105 years to March 25 of this year, and the Assembly used advanced telecommunication technologies to hold an electronic-voting session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This marked the first remote-voting session ever conducted in the state’s history. And while, in today’s day and age, advancements on these technologies have become commonplace amenities (a new smart phone is debuted almost every fourth quarter), the Assembly’s application of the technology to act on vital relief measures for the residents of New Jersey during the public health emergency serves as an example of how innovation continues to advance our way of life toward the possibilities of tomorrow.
Publicly convening 80 lawmakers to vote on the coronavirus relief measures in the midst of a shelter-in-place initiative effectuated to avoid the spread of the virus posed many logistical challenges and risks. And, while necessity may be the mother of invention, innovation is more than just the emergence of new technology; it is also the application of existing technology in novel and constructive ways.
Innovation made it possible for the “People’s House” to continue to do the people’s work providing relief to the 9 million residents of New Jersey. While the virus has impacted all aspects of society and disrupted our way of life, we are able to remain connected during these trying times. We must take advantage of this ability by sharing ideas and collaborating with each other. To those tirelessly working together to engineer solutions to the challenges that we face today, I am thankful for your efforts. In the past, when the future looked dim, innovators illuminated the path forward, and they will again.
Brian Quigley is deputy executive director and general counsel to the New Jersey Assembly Majority Office. He advises on a wide array of policy initiatives, including those involving health care technology.