jmc 860 – discussion questions for 9-17 class

JMC 860: Discussion Questions – Telegraphic & Telephonic Communication

The chapters of this week’s readings really provided a slice of Americana in the wake of technological advances.  All of the authors looked at how technologies affected personal, gender relations, psychological, business, and governmental approaches to rationalize and suggest two basic questions: Was life better or worse before the telephone/telegraph?  Words such as “better” and “worse” can always be compared to “better than what” or “worse than what”, but these qualifiers are essential, especially for Carey in determining that after the advent of the telegraph, the paradigm around communication dramatically shifted and has changed.  As we are all graduate students who look towards “communication” to provide us with challenges, case studies, problems in our academic endeavors, how will we know if our generation will experience another shift in our conception of communication?  My questions for this week center on ideological concerns of communication with the advent of these “new technologies”

  1. Czitrom, Carey, and Fischer at one point or another describe the fearful and uncertain attitudes associated with the emergence of new popular forms of technology.  Czitrom stated (p.6) that people lived in “superstitious fear” while Carey focused on the mysterious and religious quality that electricity held.  Why categorize the telegraph’s role as unleashing the fear of God’s wrath through a “swift winged messenger of destruction” (Carey p.206)?  What is the importance of religious condemnation, spirituality, and supernatural fear (using the phone to essentially communicate with the dead…akin to mesmerism)?  What effect did these scare tactics have on the people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries?  What would be a similar concern with communication and technology today?
  2. Since Carey described how after the advent of the telegraph, our conception of communication changed from a more transportation mode into a transmission mode (pp.203-204), why then do you we still use the travel/transportation metaphor of the Internet as the “information highway”?  Are we still living partially in the transportation mode of communication?
  3. Martin’s chapter on gendering the phone was very fascinating, while I don’t have a specific question, I am curious to talk more about telephone etiquette, the gendered and sexist relationship between phone companies and women who were/weren’t allowed to use the telephone, and finally the privacy component as a barrier between public and private relationships of female telephone users in the early part of the 20th century.

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