Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview

3

THE CAPTURE OF SOUND

SUPERVENING NECESSITY: THE TELEPHONE AND THE OFFICE

It is unlikely that Philip Reiss, researcher into Helmholtz’s wave theory, was particularly looking for a system to transmit the human voice. Physics, as the supervening social necessity in play, did not require it. Indeed, there was no clearly defined need for such a thing in any sphere, although as the middle decades of the century progressed one did emerge. The single major factor impacting on a whole range of technological developments in these years, including telephony, was the legal creation of the modern corporation.

The limited liability company first came into its own in the years after the Civil War in America or, in Britain, after the Companies Act of 1862. These refined commercial operations necessitated the modern office and the building to house it. Up to the 1870s, even in the USA, five-storey streetscapes were the norm. The tallest building in the world in 1873 was the Tribune office in New York. It had eleven floors (Leapman 1983:50). The seventeen-storey Mondanock building was erected in 1881.

This age found its form, as early as the 1880s in America, in a new type of office building: symbolically a sort of vertical human filing case, with uniform windows, a uniform facade, uniform accommodations, rising floor by floor in competition for light and air and above all financial prestige with other skyscrapers. The abstractions of high finance produced their exact material embodiment in these buildings.

(Mumford 1966:609)

This in turn accelerated the introduction of the geared hydraulic passenger elevator (C. 1885), 1 the typewriter (patented first in 1714 but only appearing in its modern shift-key form in 1878), the modern mechanical desk calculator (1875)

-51-

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Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction: A Storm from Paradise 1
  • Part I - Propagating Sound at Considerable Distances 17
  • 1 - The Telegraph 19
  • 2 - Before the Speaking Telephone 30
  • 3 - The Capture of Sound 51
  • Part II - The Vital Spark and Fugitive Pictures 65
  • 4 - Wireless and Radio 67
  • 5 - Mechanically Scanned Television 88
  • 6 - Electronically Scanned Television 100
  • 7 - Television Spin-Offs and Redundancies 126
  • Part III 145
  • 8 - Mechanising Calculation 147
  • 9 - The First Computers 166
  • 10 - Suppressing the Main Frames 189
  • 11 - The Integrated Circuit 206
  • 12 - The Coming of the Microcomputer 227
  • Part IV - The Intricate Web of Trails, This Grand System 241
  • 13 - The Beginnings of Networks 243
  • 14 - Networks and Recording Technologies 261
  • 15 - Communications Satellites 276
  • 16 - The Satellite Era 295
  • 17 - Cable Television 305
  • 18 - The Internet 321
  • Conclusion: the Pile of Debris 337
  • Notes 343
  • References 351
  • Index 361
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