You can thank Lee de Forest for this

Gizmodo has a brief excerpt from The Shallows in which I describe the instrumental, but now largely forgotten, role that the inventor Lee de Forest played in the launching of our electronic age:

Our modern media spring from a common source, an invention that is rarely mentioned today but that had as decisive a role in shaping society as the internal combustion engine or the incandescent lightbulb. The invention was called the Audion. It was the first electronic audio amplifier, and the man who created it was Lee de Forest.

Even when judged by the high standards set by America’s mad-genius inventors, de Forest was an oddball. Nasty, ill-favored, and generally despised – in high school he was voted “homeliest boy” in his class – he was propelled by an enormous ego and an equally outsized inferiority complex …