The telephone looms large in our lives, as ever present in modern societies as cars and television. Claude Fischer presents the first social history of this vital but little-studied technology—how we encountered, tested, and ultimately embraced it with enthusiasm. Using telephone ads, oral histories, telephone industry correspondence, and statistical data, Fischer's work is a colorful exploration of how, when, and why Americans started communicating in this radically new manner.
Studying three California communities, Fischer uncovers how the telephone became integrated into the private worlds and community activities of average Americans in the first decades of this century. Women were especially avid in their use, a phenomenon which the industry first vigorously discouraged and then later wholeheartedly promoted. Again and again Fischer finds that the telephone supported a wide-ranging network of social relations and played a crucial role in community life, especially for women, from organizing children's relationships and church activities to alleviating the loneliness and boredom of rural life.
Deftly written and meticulously researched, America Calling adds an important new chapter to the social history of our nation and illuminates a fundamental aspect of cultural modernism that is integral to contemporary life.
Claude S. Fischer is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of To Dwell among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City (1982) and The Urban Experience (1984).
"A model for historians and sociologists and . . . a standard to which all future research on technology will refer."—Daniel Bell, Harvard University
"Will be essential reading in the social history of the telephone for a long time to come."—Carolyn Marvin, author of When Old Technologies Were New
"Everybody uses the telephone; only Claude Fischer has thought about it. The telephone has liberated us from neighborhood boundaries. It lets us play and work together over long distances. Long before the computer, its communication potentials helped change our society. Claude Fischer documents the planned decisions—and the unplanned events—that made the telephone such an important instrument for connecting America."—Barry Wellman, University of Toronto
"Fischer confronts the most significant, but also the most difficult, question we can ask about a new technology—what differences did it make in the lives of its users?. . . Fischer alerts us to the complexities involved in the incorporation of a new technology into everyday life. The richness and sophistication of his analysis should caution us not to jump to easy conclusions about the effects of technological change."—Roland Marchand, UC Davis
1995 Dexter Prize, for the History of Technology. This is the major award within the subfield of history/technology., Society for the History of Technology
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