Modes and Codes

Lisa Gitelman

in This Is Enlightenment

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780226761473
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226761466 | DOI:
Modes and Codes

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter focuses on the complex mediations necessary to produce one of the most consequential events of the modern era: the invention of a new media technology. It tells the story of a chain of mediations, from F. B. Morse's first schemes for telegraphic writing and the several patents he registers and then defends, to the final decision of the Supreme Court. This story links successful implementation of the new medium with the notion of “delay”, which involves simplification and paring down. Thus, Morse's initial scheme, which is visual, writerly, print-heavy, and recording-capable, is transformed into a faster, aural, speech-like one, by the bodies of telegraph operators, who can take the written messages and translate them into clicks, which can then be heard and transcribed on the fly by the receiving operators. The analysis of the Morse telegraph suggests a feedback loop by which human bodies mediate the new technologies that they become mediated by.

Keywords: mediations; new media technology; telegraph; telegraphic writing; feedback loop

Chapter.  6106 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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