Hello, Central?

Hello, Central?: Gender, Technology, and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Hello, Central?
    Book Description:

    Drawing on the rich and unexplored Bell Canada archives in Montreal, Martin analyses the development of the telephone system in Canada, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, from 1878 to 1920. Bell Telephone originally envisaged the telephone as a business tool for a relatively small group of male professionals. The women who worked as operators -- an occupation which rapidly became a female ghetto -- played a key role in mediating the demands of telephone users and the limitations of the new technology. The many women who began to use the telephone for domestic, two-way communication eventually forced Bell Telephone to change its approach and ultimately transformed the telephone's social impact.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6286-8
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    The HamiltonSpectator, in 1884, called the telephone “the youngest and most wonderful development of the means of communication” (“Mr Fawcett and the Telephone” 1884, 1167). Some years later, Casson praised the telephone as “the high-speed tool of civilisation ... the symbol of natural efficiency and co-operation” (1910a, 238). This enthusiasm did not fade during the 1920s. In 1929, Rhodes wrote that the development of the telephone was “a unique and revolutionary step in man’s progress” (1929, ix). Despite such contemporary assessments of the significance of the telephone as a factor in social change, this means of communication has often...

  6. CHAPTER ONE “Freedom Can’t Be Overheard”
    (pp. 14-26)

    In “Electrical Communication: Past, Present, and Future,” F.B. Jewett, vice-president of American Telephone & Telegraph (at & t), asserted that the technical aspects of the telephone presented “limitless possibilities of development” (1935, 178). He maintained that the technology was flexible and could expand in any direction. What factors influenced its development into the telephone system we have now – that is, a private-line system oriented primarily toward communication between two parties? Who controlled its pattern of expansion, and under what conditions?

    Various possibilities for telephone use emerged in the course of the system’s development into a monopoly. The telephone system in central...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Killing the Competition
    (pp. 27-49)

    The development of the telephone system was related to the expansion of capitalist production in Canadian society. Capitalist industries supported this technological development because it meant better control over and possible rationalization of labour, and a reduction in the time necessary to exchange commodities. The ever-increasing mass-productivity of the capitalist mode of production created the need for a more rapid and sophisticated communication technology. The telephone not only accelerated the reproduction of capital by facilitating commodity exchange, but also reduced labour expended on such things as messenger services. Thus, capitalists were particularly receptive to its use. The telephone was developed...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Making of the Perfect Operator
    (pp. 50-81)

    In its early stages, the telephone system required the involvement of operators as “mediating” components for the production of telephone calls. But telephone operators were placed in a paradoxical situation: they represented both a necessary element in and an obstacle to the production of instantaneous private interactive communication. Before the adoption of the automatic switchboard, they were essential to making connections between subscribers, but, as “human mediators” whose activities could delay or intrude on the privacy of telephone calls, they were obstacles to the development of the telephone service sought by the companies. The telephone companies attempted to produce operators...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. 82-90)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR Voicing the “Pulse of the City”
    (pp. 91-109)

    The relationship between subscribers and operators was the subject of many articles in newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, and other publications during the early period of telephone development. Some described the role the operators played in their gradually changing relationship with subscribers, while others evaluated the participation of operators and subscribers in the use of the telephone. An oft-discussed issue was the voice.

    With the advent of the telephone, the voice had become a long-distance agent of sociability. The characteristics of the telephonic voice were replacing those of handwriting, since the former was increasingly perceived as revealing the personality; thus, it...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Bridging the Gap between the Victorian and Modern Eras
    (pp. 110-139)

    Although, for some operators, the development of the telephone was a “wonderful adventure in the development of civilization,” it had a different connotation for subscribers. The ahistorical contemporary mind perceives the telephone as a “universal,” inconspicuous, and inexpensive technology which has always been accessible to the entire community. However, as Marvin points out, the telephone of the nineteenth century “was not a democratic medium” (1988, 153). On the one hand, its price prevented a large portion of the population from having regular access to it. On the other hand, even those who could afford it did not readily adopt the...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Culture of the Telephone
    (pp. 140-166)

    In the 1890s, women in the wealthy classes were using a telephone system built and shaped by the economic incentives of the telephone industry and by political and ideological forces. Women’s activities were not seen as being of prime importance in the business world of the telephone entrepreneurs. Nor did these entrepreneurs see the utility of this new technology for working-class housewives, or for rural populations. As Marvin pointed out, telephone-company managers thought that “women’s use of men’s technology would come to no good end” (1988, 23). Capitalists considered the telephone only to be a means of facilitating business activity...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-174)

    This book has been concerned with the social nature of mediated communication under capitalism. This mediated communication, mostly provided by a telephone system developed by private capitalist enterprise, influenced various cultural practices. A 1929 article in theBloor Watchman, entitled “The Telephone,” described the impact of the telephone on society: “[T]hrough the present complex telephone system flows the life blood of domestic and business life. In every activity, business and social, it plays a part. No other business enters so intimately and personally into the daily life of the community. It is associated with everything which makes for security, happiness...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 175-188)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-214)
  16. Index
    (pp. 215-219)