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The Further Adventures of Ben Franklin's Ghost

The other day, I posted about Ben Franklin’s posthumous popularity as the go to ghost for American spiritualists. Probably Franklin’s most frequent and energetic earthly correspondent was an abolitionist minister turned spiritualist named John Murray Spear. In 1851 or 1852, Spear and his daughter Sophronia began seeking messages from the spirit world. In 1853, they announced that Spear had become the mouthpiece for the General Assembly of Spirits, a benevolent association of departed worthies like Franklin, Jefferson, and Emmanuel Swedenborg. The Assembly of Spirits was divided into a number of committees and subcommittees: the “Educationizers,” the “Governmentizers,” the “Healthfulizers,” the “Agriculturalizers,” and so on, but it was the “Electricizers,” headed of course by Franklin, who had immediate plans for Spear.

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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.

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Let Them Eat Wireless

In which Yr. Humble Correspondent tries his hand at that most dee-verting genre of blog posts, impotent griping about the slings and arrows of outrageous customer service.Calamity Jon Morris, the Gen-X Winsor McCay, wrote in his weblog the other day: “While thousands upon thousands have lost everything they ever owned, their homes, their families or their lives, I remain very angry at Netflix for dragging its feet on my latest returns. I may just be a monster.” I know how you feel, Jon. I myself feel a bit of a monster for posting the following. It does me little credit to moan about having no telephone while so many have just lost their homes. On the other hand, there were people suffering in the world long before Hurricane Katrina. What are we the bloggers of the world supposed to do, keep our whinging to ourselves until all of the world’s real problems are solved? Unlikely.

So, L & I moved into our new home two months ago. We love it. A downstairs and an upstairs, shiny appliances, funky details, a yard, a garage, a hidden treasure (allegedly), and the cutest little tree-lined street you’ve ever seen. Anyone who hadn’t been paying Boston rents for the last decade would judge it a modest little starter home, but I feel like an English colonist surveying the New World: “We will NEVER use up all this space! Never in a million years!” But there’s always a but, isn’t there? Here’s ours…
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Turk 182

A few weeks ago I asked you who you rooted for in the French revolution: peasants, aristocrats, philosophes, bourgeoisie… I also rambled a while about Ben Franklin and imagined a ridiculous Enlightenment action movie pitting Poor Richard against the (fake) chess-playing mechanical clockwork known as the Turk. A friend of mine immediately slapped a “who do you root for in the French Revolution?” poll on his LiveJournal. Alas, he’s taken that site down, so I can’t link to it, but I believe the bourgeoisie turned out to be the surprising fan favorite. Must say something about LiveJournal’s emo youth demographic. My friend also flipped my plans for the Turk. In his version of the blockbuster Ben Franklin Code, the oaken Ottoman was a fomenter of rationalism and revolution, not the servant but the enemy of absolutist monarchies. He might have something there.

Soon after writing that earlier post, I came upon Simon Schaffer‘s article “Enlightenment Automata,” which puts our friend the Turk at the center of a wonderful discussion of eighteenth-century clockworks and their implications for Enlightenment-era debates about liberty, politics, economics, and free will. There’s lots of good stuff by Schaffer floating around the net, particularly at the Hypermedia Research Centre, about which I will hopefully post more later. But to find this particular essay, I fear you may have to read a book.
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Let's Get Physical

With this post, I’m opening up comments on Old is the New New. I think I have MT-Blacklist installed properly, so hopefully we won’t have many problems with comment spammers. Our readership is, I imagine, small but highly discriminating. So whether you’re an online casino operator, a Nigerian diplomat with a delicate financial proposition, or a gaggle of barely-legal shemale hotties looking to party, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the history of the telephone and the future of networked communication.

I said in my previous throat-clearing post that I’ve been thinking lately about what lessons the early history of the telephone might offer for similar technological issues in our own time. I’m still circling around the topic gingerly, because there’s a lot to digest, and there’s a lot to learn. I’m going to start with small, and perhaps obvious, observations. But here is the first in a series of notions, just one thing to keep in mind when thinking about the internet and technological change:

The network is a physical thing.
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