325--Week 12 Questions/Comments

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Nye addresses a lot of interesting points in this week's readings, but I want to focus on one of the topics from today's lecture on the adoption of "labor saving" technological devices like the washing machine and the explosion of small house hold appliances. According to Nye, 3 studies conducted during the 1920s showed that women spent between 51-64 hrs a week doing housework. Studies conducted two generations later show the same data or sometimes an increase in the time that women spend doing house work (Nye 272). While new technological devices like the washing machine drastically reduced that amount of time that it took to complete said tasks, social expectations (i.e. cleaning the house more regularly and spending more time with your kids) coupled with additional technological innovations (having more than two sets of clothing, the invention of other appliances to "shorten" the time one spends cleaning) really only reinforced the time-consuming nature of keeping a home. Work became more gendered as men working in factories were freed from household chores. New technology even allowed women to work in factories because they could still have the time to clean their homes and take care of their children thanks to technological innovation (Nye 272). Yet later on in the chapter, Nye makes that point that since families no longer gathered around the hearth as a source of light and heat, they somewhat lost the closeness of a tight-knit family that relied upon one another in a production-based (now a consumer-based) home (Nye 282). Now technological innovation by no means directly led to the downfall of family values, but it still rings true today that technology does isolate people from one another. Someone can listen to their I-Pod and end up in their own little world totally removed from their surroundings. Since people are relational beings, is technology the Devil? (joking here, but still) -Bryan Lees

wow, how do you go after that one, is technology the devil? I'd say no, because there is a degree of choice in the isolation that comes with the use of the technology, you wouldn't put on your headphones and then expect to have a deep conversation with someone. Also, technology can help provide for social relations as well. Personally, I would feel more disconnected from the world without access to my cell, internet, or lap top. -Jessica Kilday

Also, (this relates to part of what Bryan was saying, but may be less extreme) one thing I thought was interesting in this reading was that it showed how electricity affected the family dynamics and how members of the family interacted with each other differently with the introduction of new technologies and appliances. For example, before electricity, it was more common for households to be more open and families tended to gather around a single heat source. However, after light and heat were able to be more easily accessed throughout the household, the family begins to be less centralized. Each member has their own room and their own space, which starts to resemble more how we interact with our own families today. –Jessica Kilday

My question in a previous posting about the Newport mansions being wired for both gas and electricity was answered in this reading (yay!).On page 242, Nye explains that many of the elite in the 1880's used electricity as a form of conspicuous consumption (no surprise there) and kept old lighting technology as the main light supplier. The new technology was unreliable and expensive.- Kirsten Walleck

I found the discussion of conspicuous consumption interesting as well. People knew that electricity could do things that require vast amounts of energy but it came through fairly small mundane wires. The only way that people could know that you were consuming the wave of the future, was for you to shove the byproducts in their faces. Even if your practical needs are met by gas or steam power, the world knows that you are a citizen of the modern age because your made answers the door in a light up dress (that presumably puts her at great risk). -Sean B.

I found it really interesting how much the increased demand for privacy shaped technology and culture. This can be seen in homes when they were once public space with many people in one room, they shifted into individual rooms for each person. Eventually heaters could heat an entire house, and families no longer had to gather around the stove in the kitchen for heat. Another example of this is seen as early as the early 1800’s with the doorbell, which was created as a new form of social distance and communication. Then after the 1900s corporations latched on to the idea of privacy and you can see the push for privacy promoting appliances. Examples of this are an electric massage vibrator, a water heater for shaving cream, and an electric sewing machine. –Erin Sanderson

I thought the discussion of technology isolating the household was interesting (p 257). Nye makes the point that a host of trades vanished: fruit and vegetable dealers, knife sharpeners, traveling milk and ice salespeople. All these disappearing traveling jobs, according to Nye, meant a more isolated household. I'm not really sure that's true. Jessica makes the point that later technologies (i.e., the internet) increased connectivity. Even before that, though, people still had to go to the store to buy the new technologies. Outside of that, the phone increased connections between people. -- Matt Struth

On that same page, I liked Nye's discussion of the household shift from site of production to site of consumption. The house was now still a site of production but in a very different way. Housewives had become productive consumers who bought items and appliances that made food production, mending clothes and all other household chores "easier" and needed to go to the store to accomplish most tasks. Instead of growing their own vegetables, they now had to buy them. Instead of buying ice from a local vendor, they could make their own in the freezer of their new electric appliance: the fridge. It's a bigger shift than I think most people notice. -Kelly W.

I like the discussion of advertising as well (p 264-5). It's always interesting to find out how people sold these products. Nye points out two main forms of ads: new mass-circulated magazines as well as door-to-door sales- and ad-people. I like this first because it dovetails well with my previous post, proving that even if some traveling jobs were lost, others were gained because of technology. Second, it's interesting to look at how things were sold and promoted. Utility companies would go door-to-door to current customers advertising new products. It's a weird experience to think about, I missed the age of door-to-door salespeople. With the internet and email it must not be a cost-effective approach anymore. -- Matt Struth

I completely agree with Matt about how interesting it is to view how things were primarily sold and promoted. What Nye discusses is the fact that companies then went door to door to sell their merchandise. This is so much different from our time today because now companies give us the responsibility and rely on us to go out to the stores and buy their merchandise. One of the reasons that changed the salesmen practice Mike addressed. The fact that the internet makes it so much easier for companies to adversities their products makes the salesmen obsolete. But another technology that also plays a big role in advertisement is television. The reason why companies have stopped going door to door is because this is not cost effective; it is much easier to make an ad and air it on television where it will reach millions of people. It is technology that has changed the way we advertise and I am glad that we can get information out so quickly; but again like Matt I do miss the Door-to-Door Salesmen era. – Jimmy Conroy

Its amazing how something like technology can shape privacy but yet also shape social relations. Having to keep up with the newest technology help bring people together, by allow families and individuals to almost compete in social standing. At the same time new time saving machines isolated women. While housework seemed easier there was now more work. Housework became more and more isolated. -- Kellye Sorber

I think that what is important to take away from this reading is that the production of the home was overshadowed by the consumption of the home with the help of modern technology and electrical appliances. Modern is the key word here. In addition - As Dr. M mentioned in class, and this article reiterates, the different domestic spheres were assisted by this new technology craze. Men no longer had anything to do with housework, while women were expected to (with the help of new technology) take on more and more as consumerism culture exploded onto the scene. - Elle

Nye's discussion of how gender roles were defined by technology actually rings very true for me. The only person in my family to go to college was my grandmother, who holds a degree in home economics. For most of her life, she has not done much career-wise with it, but still owns most of the appliances that she bought in the 60s and 70s because she cares for them extremely well. My grandfather only had a high school diploma but drove a tank in the Marines, then worked for Western Union and MCI. It was never really clear what he did for a living, but it had something to do with making sure the phone system worked. How they lead their lives fits right into this gender paradigm: men's job is to create the technology that improves lives, and women's job is to put it to work improving lives. -Sean B.

It still shocks me how big of a deal electrification of the home was for people, although it shouldn't. It's hard trying to be a historian and look at things through the lens of someone of the time period. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but sit jaw-dropped at the amount of literature that came from the electrification of the home. The entire situation was seen in plays, advertisements, poems, songs, etc. and it just seems so silly nowadays that these people were so thankful and impressed with electricity in their little suburban homes and city apartments. And what shocked me the most was the amount of time and thought put into the character names and the philosophy behind Dynamo, the play byt Eugene O'Neill. The cultural shift and emphasis on inner light and good just seems so absurd, but I guess the impact electricity had on American life and society kind of merits that amount of interest and applause. I have a hard time believing, though, that everyone felt this pleased and happy with electricity and appliances when they were first introduced as these writings and advertisements make it appear. I guarantee you there were those people like my mother who stood back and said "before you go on this new rollercoaster, let other people ride it for a couple of months and make sure no one dies first." As appealing as all of this seemed there had to be a large number of skeptics. -Kelly W.

Nye writes that only one in ten homes in the U.S. had electrical power by 1910, but seven in ten homes had electricity by 1930. I think it’s interesting to consider that within the context of Fredericksburg. The city first got electrical power in the 1880s, but it was limited to places like factories. With the completion of the Embry Dam in 1910, the rest of the city was able to get electricity, though I assume it took a number of years before most homes were electrified. I suppose that puts Fredericksburg on average with the rest of the country, or maybe even a little ahead of the curve. --Taylor Brann

The last sentence to the first paragraph on page 277 sums up what we touched in class about "labor-saving" vs "time-saving." Nye says how the girl still did just as much work as her mother, but just 'redefined it.' I really like that thought of time vs labor saving. It not only created more work, but a different type of work for the household (women). -- Maggie Wroe

I also caught that first paragraph on 277. I enjoyed the conversation we had on saving labor vs. saving time, and that section helped to reinforce it. I think that in a major way, social constructs play a role in gaining the new appliances that may save labor, but ultimately increase the time spent on that particular labor. For example, a housewife from the 40s or 50s pressured by the fact that her friends have one and then she gets a washer/dryer set. There may have been less clothes in the past, but now, with that wonderful device, even more clothes can be soiled! --- Jeff P.

Going back to Bryan's comment, in a way I do see technology as the "devil," it consumes the majority of our lives. We are always on the internet or computer which could take away from family time or actually making you have no social life at all. Of course this is by choice, but technology does influence us to be drawn to it.--Paul Kim

I think that the development of technology affected women in the 20th century more than is first apparent. Although women may have been able to join the workforce because modern conveniences gave them more free time, their homes were still supposed to be "sites of efficient production," as Nye puts it. The bar was raised for everything, so in fact the idea of saving time was a farce. On page 258, Nye mentions an electric hair curler that was marketed to women. So in addition to running a perfect household, women had to have beautifully curled hair all the time. The more "modern" inventions there were, the more was expected of women. - Karen Siegmund


I found the discussion on page 270 about advertising approaches particularly notable, because it mentioned the concept of electricity replacing servants as a targeted campaign. At a time only a couple of decades prior to the Civil Rights movement sweeping across America, I have to wonder, would it have been as successful if not for these campaigns. Specific advertising campaigns solidified in the mindsets of Americans their lack of necessity for servants, therefore could it have promoted social mobility among lower class blacks still crippled under oppressive post Civil War debts? If so, could it be argued the very method of advertising electricity contributed to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's that was to come. -Adam Shlossman

I found Edison's idea of the new modern housewife fascinating. Edison claimed electricity would transform the housewife into a "Domestic Engineer" rather than a "Domestic Laborer". He even thought that electrification of the household would force women's nervous system and brains to evolve to be equal to men's. You can see the increasing standards for women - with electricity they now have to be "engineers". - Lon