Thursday, May 9, 2024

And while we're on the subject of tech revisionism...

Here's another repost about 21st century journalists retconning the late 19th century narrative. Based on feed back to the original, I've added some relevant details.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tech revisionism and the myth of the killer app

I'm wondering if anyone else there occasionally has a "blogger moment." It is similar to a "senior moment," but it involves either thinking you posted something that you didn't or failing to remember you posted something that you did. I had one of these this morning when I went looking for what I'd written at the time about this egregious piece of tech revisionism by NPR's Laura Sydell.
Years later, an Edison assistant wrote: "We were sitting around. We'd been working on the telephone — yelling into diaphragms. And Edison turned to me, and he said, 'If we put a needle or a pin on this diaphragm, it'll vibrate, and if we pull a strip of wax paper underneath it, it should leave marks. And then if we pull that piece of paper back, we should hear the talking.' "

Yet, no one knew what to do with this invention. It took 20 years to figure out that music was the killer app.

[I should have been more emphatic about the timeline. Dates matter in this story

Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention that first gained him wider notice was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park."

Those early cylinders only lasted for a few plays, had very poor sound quality and could not be mass produced, worthless as a commercial medium for prerecorded music.]

Even a cursory check of the historic record would show that the ability to record and reproduce (since that's what we mean when we talk about "recording" technology) spoken words, music, etc. was instantly hailed as a major discovery, that people immediately saw the potential, particularly for music, and that there was from day one an enormous push by a wide range of inventors and engineers to get the technology commercially viable.

These illustrations from the October 12, 1889 issue of Scientific American illustrate the point.

[And it would be years after this before Edison's engineers were able to mass produce a commercially viable prerecorded record.]

[Speaking of premature attempts to capitalize on technology.]

No comments:

Post a Comment