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By Harry Fawcett Buckley

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He thought that the telephone could be a direct instrument of democracy for the average middle-class American citizen. His vision of democracy shaped the kind of telephone system that he promoted. For him, telecommunications also required the active intervention of the state, and his conviction that technology would have a deterministic social and political effect was instrumental in driving this technological development. Erik Rau’s essay on the emergence of Operational Research as a systems science provides a more recent example of how ideas about the social and political relations of technology (and, in this case, science) shape its development and its political life.

To cope with the message volume, Atlantic and Pacific tried using Georges D’Infreville’s crude duplex and Edison’s automatic system. Gould convinced Edison to join the firm briefly as its Chief Electrician. 14 The other major challenge for Western Union came from Washington. No sooner had Western Union achieved national dominance in 1866 than individuals such as Gardiner Hubbard began attacking it as a threat to American democracy. For Hubbard and others, Western Union was the first national monopoly, and they did not believe that this corporate giant would exercise any restraint in raising prices or that it would serve the public inter- The Telephone as Political Instrument 31 est.

In the mid 1870s, several inventors in Europe and America began designing acoustic or harmonic telegraphs. Inspired partly by the work of the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, investigators thought it might be possible to send and receive several messages by assigning a separate acoustic tone to each message.

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A short history of physics, by Harry Fawcett Buckley


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