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When old technologies were new : thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century /

Main Author: Marvin, Carolyn.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Oxford University Press, 1988
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Review by Choice Review

Imagine living in a world without telephones, radios, televisions, the personal computer, or the light bulb. There are few alive today who can recall those ``good old days.'' Marvin gives new meaning to what we take for granted; today most homes would burn down without the phone to call the fire department. The flurry of 19th-century inventions harnessed the flow of electrons to transmit information by telegraph, tickertape, telephone, radio, phonograph, and to produce light. The magical qualities of applied electricity are no longer considered as such. Still, the imagination remains dominant over the technological delights that it produces, but the interdependence is growing. This most informative book helps the modern reader to comprehend the speed at which electricity-dependent technologies have altered human perceptions of humankind and the world. For comparison with certain current aspects of the discussion, a useful companion volume is T. Forester, High-tech Society: The Story of the Information Technology Revolution (CH, Jan'88). For college and public libraries.-E.H. Christianson, University of Kentucky

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Late last century a series of electrical innovations drastically altered the social order and economies of industrial nations. This book uses two innovations, the telephone and the electric light, to show how technology reshaped social relations. Quotations and anecdotes from the popular press illustrate how professionals struggled to control the new media and preserve the social order by excluding ``outsiders,'' particularly the lower classes and women. This is a solidly researched study; more lighthearted commentary could have also made it entertaining nonfiction. For larger academic collections. Donald J. Marion, Univ. of Minnesota Inst. of Technology Libs., Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Marvin (U. of Penn., Annenberg School of Communications) turns a scholar's eye to the social and cultural history of late 19th-century technologies--specifically, the electric light, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and phonograph. Gleaning from popular and professional sources of the day, she assembles a lively picture of emerging elites and benighted publics in America and elsewhere. Electrical engineers were keen for recognition as an expert elite, distancing themselves from craftsmen by founding professional societies and journals and coining suitably arcane jargon. The public at large, divided between enlightened laymen (urban, educated, white and male) and the rest (hicks, non-white, and women) perpetuated cultural clichÉs and Victorian mores. We learn, for example, of Persian nomads who turned telegraph wire into bracelets, and of women's natural addiction to the telephone given their inherent loquaciousness. The inventions themselves raised societal concerns. The potential for political control, for deliberate deception or abuse through communications channels, was early recognized. So was the potential for physical harm, in the form of electric shocks, weapons of war, or capital punishment. But physical benefit might also accrue--especially electrical ""power"" to boost virility. The electric light became a source of public spectacle and personal adornment long before it invaded homes. Some saw the new communications media as a threat to social boundaries; others envisioned a new one-world democracy. In many ways, Marvin's multiple visions of technologies born just a century ago are a sharp reminder that ""la plus ca change. . ."" One has only to think of society's alarms and excursions on the theme of nuclear energy or recombinant DNA to see the relevance and timeliness of the author's engaging sociotechnological insights. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.