A Rewritable Medium
Also mentioned in Smith’s early writings, this notion of erasing and rerecording cannot be underemphasized in the histories of magnetic storage. When compared with other, seemingly less-reusable options (such as shellac discs and wax cylinders) on the market, piano wire became an appealing alternative. It was a rewritable medium, and being able to rewrite a record ironically implied increased odds for perfection. A second take (or an edit) gave people a sense of agency, an opportunity to finally capture (but actually reconstruct or make) the essence of a moment heretofore undocumented. And although piano wire is brittle, easy to twist and tangle, and subject to severe fluctuation during playback (especially if hand- or pedal-cranked), its magnetic character was laden with a progressivist bent toward a Hegelian promise of purely synthesized sound and immediate recording. Because of this bent, many of the medium’s material limitations (e.g., brittleness and fluctuation)—not to mention many significant aspects of the impression and playback processes—were often overlooked in order to foreground advancements in science, industry, and everyday office life.