History of technology

“Outtakes” from interviews by David Hoffman on the streets of New York in the late 70s when he was doing a documentary on the coming of the information age.

Fun little historical tidbit on “hacking” of technology in eighteenth century France. Apparently there were some brothers who used the semaphore telegraph system for their own gain. They used a mechanism for correcting errors when messages were relayed to transmit information. With the help of some insider person they could use to transmit their own information about the stock exchange in Paris to Bordeaux which allowed them to make a lot of money! I read the translated article at Courrier international.

Les messages relayés par les tours prévoyaient la possibilité d’une correction, une sorte de touche “retour arrière” pour effacer la position précédente quand, pour une raison quelconque, un opérateur avait fait une erreur. Les Blanc ont compris qu’ils pouvaient soudoyer l’un des opérateurs pour qu’il introduise une “erreur” quand le marché de Paris clôturait à la hausse, et une autre “erreur” lors d’une clôture à la baisse. L’“erreur” se propageait d’une tour à l’autre, jusqu’à ce qu’un complice des frères, muni d’une lunette, la détecte et en informe aussitôt les deux banquiers, qui gagnaient des fortunes à Bordeaux et semblaient toujours deviner avec un instinct surnaturel ce qui s’était passé à Paris.

In an article from 1976 I came accross in the book the Social Shaping of Technology1, Ruth Schwartz Cowan looks at the introduction of technological appliances in the home and their effects on home work. Her analysis shows that the “industrialization of the home” was very different process from what we might suspect: that it would descrease the amount of work needed to be done by housewives. Rather the technologies seems to have shifted the work and contributed to changes in aspects of the work (such as the emotional aspects).

The standard sociological model for the impact of modern technology on family life clearly needs some revision: at least for middle-class nonrural American families in the 20th century, the social changes were not the ones that the standard model predicts. In these families the functions of at least one member, the housewife, have increased rather than decreased; and the dissolution of family life has not in fact occurred.

  1. Cowan, R. S. (1976). The ‘Industrial Revolution’ in the Home: Household Technology and Social Change in the 20th Century. Technology and Culture, 17(1), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.2307/3103251 ↩︎

Fascinating film on operation, social negotiations, etiquette,… of old tech, the “party line”, where a single telephone line was shared in a community. See the video on The Internet Archive.

Must read on part of history of technology of antibiotics on animals: “The discovery that Aureomycin promoted animal growth set in motion a train of unintended consequences, from antibiotic resistance to factory farming.”.