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Fascinating (if unsurprising) Similarities January 24, 2007

Posted by Sarah in internet, media, quotations, technology.
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I recently read The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.  The book was set up to draw parallels between the telegraph and the Internet, and it did so admirably.  The themes that emerge there certainly appear to be themes related to ICTs and their relationships to society.  Today, I read an article that filled in another gap in this pattern.  Chronologically, the telephone comes between the telegraph and the Internet.  Some excerpts from Stanley Aronson’s “The Sociology of the Telephone”.*

A discussion of the social effect of the telephone would, however, be incomplete were reference to its relationship to other modes of communication omitted.  In the absence of research one can only suggest these relationships through a series of questions: Does telephone communication lessen or increase total face-to-face communication?  Does it supplement or replace the latter?  How does telephone communication change the character of face-to-face and written communications?  What effects has use of the telephone had on the rate of use of the telegraph and on the letter writing habits of Americans?

These are all questions that have been, in one way or another, asked and answered about the Internet.  I’m not grounded enough in the literature on the telephone to know if they were answered in that arena (though I suspect there are probably answers in Katz’s Connections, which is sitting in the study with me right now – I read exerpts of it several years ago but haven’t revisited it recently).  Standage raised many of the same issues in The Victorian Internet as well, as well as touching on the effects of the telegraph on business (as Aronson does), as a mass medium (as Aronson does; I had never been aware of the use of the telephone as a mass medium, but it apparently was), and so on.

*Aronson, Sidney H.  1971.  The Sociology of the Telephone.  International Journal of Comparative Sociology 12(3): 153-167.

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