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We Can Be Happy Underground

Alfred Ely Beach's Pneumatic Subway

From the “Further Readings” section at the back of Paul Collin’s wonderful Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change The World:

There is one very simple way to see what Beach’s railway [19th century New York's secret, unfinished pneumatic subway] looked like, and blown up far larger than any plate in this book could manage. Go to a Subway shop–the fast-food chain, you know, where you can buy a six-inch Cold Cut Trio?–and lo! Pasted upon the walls are pictures of Beach’s invention. Whoever was designing the chainwide decor for Subway simply clipped out a bunch of old public-domain illustrations of subways, including three that originally ran in Scientific American in the 1870s. Look for the pictures that depict an almost perfectly round (save for a slight groove in the bottom) brick-lined subway tunnel, and a rounded subway car interior. These are Beach’s own handpicked illustrations for what was to be an ultra-million-dollar venture. Graze pensively on your Baked Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips. Ponder the vagaries of ambition.

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Old News: Philo Philes

Last night in my Media History seminar, I started to make a rhetorical point about how we (think we) know who invented the telegraph, the telephone, and so on, but nobody can really name the inventor of television. The point of the story was going to be that the invention of all those devices is much murkier than we believe, that the lone inventor is often a fiction of patent law and corporate PR. But as soon as I said, “But nobody can really name the inventor of television,” the class shouted in unison: “Philo!”

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Frontiers of New Media 2009

Not 24 hours after I dissed the networking/self-promotion side of blogging, here’s me doing some networking and promotion!

I’m spending this semester as the Simmons Visiting Professor in Communication and History the University of Utah. My family and I just recently arrived in Salt Lake City and once again, I’m bowled over by both the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the inhabitants. One thing I’m doing here is helping to organize the 2009 Frontiers of New Media Symposium. Longtime readers may recall me gushing about the 2007 Frontiers of New Media Symposium, which was one of the smartest, friendliest, most fun academic conferences I’ve ever been to. Now I and the Departments of History and Communication have the modest task of recapturing that lightning in a bottle.

The symposium is just two weeks away, on September 18 and 19. If you’re in the SLC area you should absolutely come out. The keynote speaker is AnnaLee Saxenian, Dean of UC-Berkeley’s School of Information, and we have a great lineup of panelists on the second day. If you’re not near Utah, please visit the website, follow the blog or Twitter feeds, and spread the word to any who might be interested, even via social media platforms I might have disparaged last night. I’ll be blogging at the FoNM site from now until the conference–there’s a neat video there now of UC-Riverside’s Toby Miller on the history and future of television–and doing my best to make our conversations there accessible to people who can only join us virtually.

My inspiration here is THATCamp 2009, which was held back in June and exploded over Twitter and the internet–at least the parts of it I frequent–with such force that I kind of thought I was there. Frontiers of New Media isn’t nearly as big or Tweety an operation, but we will do our best. I even considered disguising the symposium as “THATCamp Rocky Mountains” in order to ride the coattails of the regional THATCamps popping up everywhere. We have a great panel planned on New Media and the Practice of Scholarship, featuring CHNM’s Sharon Leon and my favorite mad scientist historian, Bill Turkel–so that’s plenty THATCampy.

So, yeah. Ignore what I said yesterday about the Hobbesian waltz of the A-list and the long tail. Network! Tweet! Work the room!