Newsletter of the Mercurians, in the Society for the History of Technology
Volume 10 No. 2, May 1998
There are ways in which our attitudes towards communication technologies seem to be special, such as how quickly we seek to integrate new communication devices into our lives. Perhaps that attitude results in some way from the profound link between speech and humanity. Lance Strate's essay surveys many of the ways in which communication has been analyzed over the millennia, evincing the importance of the fundamental links between communication and humanness.
Coming from different directions, Harris M. Berger and Adam L. Gruen remind us of the special allure of new communication technologies, and of the not-so-special ways in which they can be applied like other technologies in the workplace. Berger reviews the history of modern musical technologies and labor in James Kraft's Stage to Studio: Musicians and the Sound Revolution, 1890-1950. Those technologies initially fostered a rise in employment opportunities for musicians, but those opportunities later declined as twentieth-century sound technologies evolved increasing powers to record and distribute music, leaving many musicians with their jobs replaced by automation of a sort. Gruen ruminates on how readily we seem to identify access to state-of-the-art communication technologies with personal merit. He also cautions us against either scorning yesterday's technologies or assuming an inevitable progress toward tomorrow's new and better. He also reminds us that new-and-improved communication technologies can put scholars as well as musicians out of work.