History and Appliances: I Love the Gilded Age

Tags: Turkelectronics, a worry-free histo-tainment experience, that episode of The A-Team where Boy George played himself.

If you’re reading my colleague Bill Turkel’s routinely brilliant Digital History Hacks, you’ve already seen his recent posts on Luddism and history appliances . (And if you aren’t, why aren’t you? He won an award, you know.) Bill’s “history appliances” series starts like this:

Imagine wandering into your living room after a day of work. You sit down in your chair and turn a dial to 1973. The stereo adjusts automatically, streaming Bob Marley, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Jim Croce. LCD panels hanging on the wall switch to display Roberto Matta’s Jazz Bande and Elizabeth Murray’s Wave Painting. If you check your TV listings, you’ll find Mean Streets, Paper Moon, American Graffiti, The Sting, Last Tango in Paris … even Are You Being Served? In your newspaper you find stories about the cease-fire in Vietnam, about Watergate, about Skylab, about worldwide recession and OPEC and hostilities in the Middle East. If you want to read a novel instead, you might try Gravity’s Rainbow or Breakfast of Champions.

Sounds pretty swell, doesn’t it? And he and I have had some fun conversations about history appliances we might actually get constructed. But allow me to offer an alternate scenario:

Imagine wandering into your living room after a day of work. You sit down in your chair and turn a dial to 1973. Nothing happens.

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Massively Multiplayer On The Line

One of several “forgotten” communication and entertainment media lovingly “restored” to working order (there’s even a bunch of movies) at the Museum of Lost Interactions in Dundee:

The Richaphone, ca 1900

The Richophone was a multi-player based game found in prestigious hotels and cafes in and around London in 1900. The game was played from special Richophone booths, where players connected to the game through a system of telephones. The prizes to be won were very generous.


Metaphysical Graffiti

Tags: gilded age memetics, intellectual history as improv jazz, the secret of the sphinx revealed.

I’m a little stunned by how many nights back in September I stayed awake to the small hours reading Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club. You might not expect the intellectual biography of four Gilded Age pragmatists to be a compulsive page turner, but for me it really was.
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