Ideology and the telephone : the social reception of a technology, London 1876-1920
This thesis explores the social reception of the telephone mainly in late-Victorian and Edwardian London. My objective is to understand how urban populations are educated to a new technology, and how technology is socially appraised and embedded. "The social reception of technology" is defined as the development and promotion of a new technology, the political reactions and social comment it stimulates, and the nature of its social and geographic diffusion. This approach, I argue, reveals important connections between technology, ideology and social power in the city. The telephone was one of several new space-binding technologies introduced into Britain between 1870 and 1920. The telephone contributed to the creation of a "networked city", and to the extension of the "public sphere". Because of the telephone's basic characteristics -- its speed and immediacy of communication -- commentators have regarded it as essentially modern and democratic. This view is considered deterministic and an exaggeration of the telephone's early significance. The telephone system developed gradually. Initially an elite technology, the telephone was first used and introduced in traditional ways. Developed in Britain largely by private interests, the telephone was commoditised by its promoters and marketed as a business machine. The long distance network was prioritised over local networks, business over social uses, and the extension of the price system over other possible social objectives. As the telephone system developed, this "entrepreneurialism" clashed with other ideological agents in the city: the individualism of private land ownership, professionalism of engineers and public servants, and with diverse state and non-state institutions claiming to represent the public interest. If not modern in function or consequence, the telephone I suggest was institutionally modern; in the attempts of its promoters and their opponents to use the "public sphere" in their own interest, yet always subject to it; to generate through the press and through material and symbolic practices talk about the telephone, yet always subject to public scrutiny in the form of press comment and criticism. The thesis illustrates these arguments through a survey of how the telephone was reported in the press; through a study of policy as revealed in the archives of the Post Office and the National Telephone Company; and through a case study of the telephone's diffusion in the middle class suburb of Hampstead.