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

Speculative Determinism

To be sure, the telegraphone was embedded in what might be called “speculative determinism,” or the articulation of a yet-to-be-disseminated technology with its allegedly inevitable effects. Here, examples include the multiple practices, people, and technologies the device would ostensibly replace or at least dramatically alter: the phonograph, the gramophone, stenography, the book, the typewriter, the typist, the secretary, the police, the detective, the telegraph, listening, reading, and writing, to name a few. Such an articulation—in advance of the telegraphone’s widespread consumption—allowed people like Fankhauser and Reeve to shape magnetic recording’s commodity character. Part of that character was the appeal of a storage medium that facilitated individual authority over what ultimately went on record. Consider Fankhauser during his Franklin Institute speech, where he asserts that because of the telegraphone an “operator has perfect control of his record, may erase or retrace any part of it at any time by simply pressing the button” (1909, 43). This fetish for control was repeatedly expressed in writings related to the device. For some, it meant the ability to defer calls, consolidate time, and delete evidence. For others, it meant immersed listening on the clock, awkward dictation into a receiver, a loss of privacy, and possible obsolescence in the job market. For all, it meant that, when welded with new media and technologies, perceptual habits and memory techniques could not be neatly parsed from Fordist efficiency.

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