Essay: Hoy! Hoy! Mushi-Mushi! Allo!

When Mel Brooks' 2,000-Year-Old Man was asked to name the greatest invention in the history of the world, he answered without hesitation: "Saran Wrap." A nice try, but wrong. The greatest invention in the history of the world was -- is -- the telephone.

The telephone is a commonplace item on a much-wired planet. The idea of being able to throw your voice around the world and in a few seconds hit precisely the ear you wanted among all the globe's 10 billion ears has lost its capacity to surprise. But the telephone has strange powers. The sudden little Ice Age...