Digital Media

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Capture of Sound
Brian Winston

Winston's discussion on the history leading up to the telephone makes a good argument for invention being more than just a useful idea that is not subject to its surroundings. The scientific competence clearly had to be present for Bell and Gray to do their experiments.

What is interesting, however, is that both Bell and Gray had the idea for a device to transmit speech, but that neither seemed in a hurry to develop the idea into a prototype. Winston says the company office provided the supervening necessity to start building inventions that could be leased to companies or individuals. Before the office was commonplace, the uses for a telephone were not obvious. And once the need did become obvious, the diffusion was suppressed by a patent war. It's also strange that the telephone has almost always been a way to communicate between two points. One-to-one communication is also fairly standard on the Internet. I wonder if this is because people prefer to talk one-on-one or if this is another way to suppress the technology. I think the Internet will probably increase multiparty chats eventually.

What the history of the telephone also illustrated was that the best idea or prototype will not always be the adopted technology. Winston refers to the inertia that helps the diffusion of a certain technology. It's very difficult for new technologies to compete once an invention has made inroads into society. If people have become used to a certain technology, they need a very compelling reason to change technologies. For example, the videophone never became mainstream because people were used to talking on regular telephones. However, cameras in Internet communications are much more common. I think this is because the Internet was seen as a place to experiment with new technologies, whereas the telephone was an established form of communication that people were reluctant to change. In this way inertia became a suppression of radical potential.


<< Home