Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

A Prehistory for the Hard Drive

All of this faith and speculation was possible without a standardized device. No doubt, the case of the telegraphone is all the more curious because fiction related to it circulated more than the physical object itself. Despite the 1900 Paris Exhibition gold medal, exhaustive research by Poulsen’s team, and endorsements from a number of known scientists and engineers in related fields, the telegraphone never achieved a default state—say, a reliable medium with a known storage capacity and consistent playback—intended for a specific group of ideal users (e.g., office workers, police, or detectives). Likely for this reason, as well as its lack of commercial success, it is rarely mentioned in media or literary studies.57 Still, as this essay shows, the telegraphone did gain some traction, offering us a prehistory for its now ubiquitous successor—the hard drive—and attendant medial ideologies anchored in the immediate transubstantiation of magnetic impressions into seemingly immaterial, data-driven expressions.58 To be sure, neither the details of this prehistory nor the objects and ideologies associated with them are reducible to technical matters alone. Again, people learned to at once ignore, trust, and desire magnetic recording—to make magnetic records, not just give or take them.

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