Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic RecordingMain MenuAboutAbstract for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PIntroductionIntroduction to Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic RecordingNotesNotes for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PMediaMedia for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PAcknowledgmentsAcknowledgments for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PTechnical InformationTechnical Information for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PReferencesReferences for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U PJentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339This essay is part of the “New Media” special issue of American Literature (volume 85, number 4, December 2013). See http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2370230. Version 1 of the site is (c) 2013 by Duke University Press.
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12013-10-18T10:13:53-07:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca533924913Message Recording Allowed People to Be Available in Multiple Locations at Onceplain2013-12-26T10:09:11-08:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339These affordances might be rephrased from the perspective and parlance of a US business operating circa 1906: irrefutable evidence of verbal agreements, the obsolescence of stenographers and associated costs, and increased efficiency through automated messaging and split attention. Indeed, with a machine to hear for them, people could double their labor, listening to a telephone caller in one space while completing additional tasks—like drafting a breach of promise suit—in another.Understood this way, turn-of-the-century communications technologies were not distraction devices. Instead, they increased what people could achieve in a typical day, and they could presumably translate routine sensual labor (e.g., listening) into value-producing activity (e.g., the creation and administration of office records). By extension, businesses could increase the thoroughness and transparency of their file keeping. Stearns elaborates on these technological and business innovations by creating an everyday character named Mr. Jones, who has to work on the weekend. “It is a Saturday afternoon in summer; save for himself, the office is wholly deserted” (1906, 412). However, Mr. Jones must depart the office in order run some errands uptown. Knowing important people will probably call him, he sets his new storage device on “ready” and leaves. While he is absent from the office, several messages are left, each no longer than three minutes, at which point the device stops (412). If callers do not complete their message within that time frame—selected solely for the purposes of efficiency, since a two-mile spool of wire could receive up to 17.6 minutes of sound—then they must call back. When he returns to the office, he finds the spool of wire near full. So “Mr. Jones sits back in his chair, starts up the instrument, puts the receivers to his ears and listens to the various voices and messages that have been floating into his office since noon!” (412). Comparable to Smith’s “hypothetical young lady,” he might be multitasking: writing one message and listening to another. Regardless, for reasons explained later in this essay, Stearns’s scenario remains largely a fiction in Technical World Magazine and elsewhere, at least during its time period. As historian David Morton (2000, 134) notes, it was not until the 1980s that many Americans had an answering machine in their businesses or homes. Nevertheless, something like it did exist in 1906, eighty years before Ferris Bueller took the day off and deferred callers until after the beep.
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1media/background.png2013-10-30T16:19:36-07:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339AboutJentery Sayers52Abstract for “Making the Perfect Record,” American Literature 85.4 (December 2013), http://10.1215/00029831-2370230, Duke U Pplain83862013-12-27T07:40:22-08:00Jentery Sayersbecbfb529bffcfafdfad6920ed57b30ccdca5339
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12013-10-12T17:16:36-07:00Office Records6Files are the training ground for administrative routineplain2013-12-19T11:24:18-08:00In Files, Cornelia Vismann (2008, 101) describes how the creation and organization of records is central to the work of offices and administration. Near the end of the book’s third chapter, she describes files as “the training ground for administrative routine.” That is, files are not simply the product or output of administration.
12013-10-12T17:18:11-07:00A Two-Mile Spool of Wire5Stearns likely exaggerated the amount of audio that could be recorded onto wireplain2013-12-19T11:20:27-08:00Although Stearns (1906, 411) suggests “there are two miles of wire to run through” the telegraphone, his estimation might be hyperbole. Two miles, or 10,560 feet, would have meant 1,056 seconds (or 17.6 minutes). Like Clark’s “Our New Thread” cotton, the most common spools of wire were two hundred yards (or six hundred feet) in length, and generally held only a minute of audio (at the rate of ten feet per second).
12013-10-12T17:15:00-07:00A Machine to Hear for Them4The history of sound reproduction technologies is imbricated with otology in the nineteenth centuryplain2013-12-19T11:22:08-08:00Here, I am echoing Sterne (2003, 51) in The Audible Past, where he stresses how the history of sound reproduction technologies is very much a history of the human ear as a mechanism, beginning in part with the advent of otology (ear medicine) in the late eighteenth century, when the ear (particularly the tympanum) was treated as a discrete, measurable object of scientific inquiry. Later, many sound reproduction technologies, including the phonograph, were represented as “talking machines.” Yet, following research in otology and related fields, they were first imagined as hearing machines, especially for the deaf. Alexander Graham Bell’s research (subtended by an investment in the eradication of deaf culture) is but one example. Consequently, Sterne argues that “the history of sound reproduction is the history of the transformation of the human body as object of knowledge and practice. Alongside the problematization of sound, the abstraction of auditory perception and its condensation into a tympanic function defines sound-reproduction technologies as we know them today” (50–51).
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12013-10-12T17:15:00-07:00Disembodied Listening3The history of sound reproduction technologies is imbricated in the abstracted scientific study of the ear during the eighteenth century.plain2013-11-18T10:13:09-08:00
12013-10-12T17:16:36-07:00A Site of Praxis3The records are a a site of praxis in addition to being the product of administration.plain2013-11-18T10:21:51-08:00
12013-10-12T17:18:11-07:00An Exaggerated Statement of Output3Stearns likely exaggerated the amount of audio that could be recoded on his answering machine.plain2013-11-18T10:26:59-08:00