Feeling Mediated: A History of Media Technology and Emotion in America

Feeling Mediated: A History of Media Technology and Emotion in America

Feeling Mediated: A History of Media Technology and Emotion in America

Feeling Mediated: A History of Media Technology and Emotion in America

Synopsis

New technologies, whether text message or telegraph, inevitably raise questions about emotion. New forms of communication bring with them both fear and hope, on one hand allowing us deeper emotional connections and the ability to forge global communities, while on the other prompting anxieties about isolation and over-stimulation. Feeling Mediated investigates the larger context of such concerns, considering both how media technologies intersect with our emotional lives and how our ideas about these intersections influence how we think about and experience emotion and technology themselves.

Drawing on extensive archival research, Brenton J. Malin explores the historical roots of much of our recent understanding of mediated feelings, showing how earlier ideas about the telegraph, phonograph, radio, motion pictures, and other once-new technologies continue to inform our contemporary thinking. With insightful analysis, Feeling Mediated explores a series of fascinating arguments about technology and emotion that became especially heated during the early 20th century. These debates, which carried forward and transformed earlier discussions of technology and emotion, culminated in a set of ideas that became institutionalized in the structures of American media production, advertising, social research, and policy, leaving a lasting impact on our everyday lives.

Excerpt

Benjamin Franklin was one of the first American media theorists. a printer, newspaper publisher, and postmaster, Franklin produced and thought about a range of media forms. in his frequent discussions of “communication,” however, he primarily had something else in mind. in explaining an experiment with electricity, Franklin instructed his readers to “place a thick piece of glass under the rubbing cushion to cut off the communication of electrical fire from the floor to the cushion.” Similarly, in an explanation of a rudimentary battery made from a bottle, Franklin wrote that “the Equilibrium cannot be restored in the Bottle by inward Communication, or Contact of the Parts.” in a discussion of how the lightning rod he designed could help a church, Franklin offered that “a sufficient metallic communication between the roof of the church and the ground” needed to be established. For Franklin, communication was primarily an electrical interaction between physical objects rather than an exchange between people.

Franklin’s use of the term “communication” reflected a common sense of the word in his time, though one that was even then beginning to change. As John Peters has explained, “The concept of communication as we know it originates from an application of physical processes such as magnetism, convection, and gravitation to occurrences between minds.” the seventeenth-century fascination with electricity of which Franklin was an important part created a like interest in various other kinds of connectivity. If metal objects could develop a magnetic attraction to each other, then what about human beings? the fact that we can still speak of a person’s . . .

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