325--Week 8 Questions/Comments

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Women's roles in telephone industry

I thought it was neat in the first article (and the second) when men and women's abilities and skills were listed for why they'd be good for such and such a certain job, how women were good for the telegraph because they "pay more undivided attention to their duties" (234). Which I think is funny but wrong, as men can too pay undivided attention to a . . . . hey look a doggie . . . duty. -- Jeff =)

I found Katherine M. Schmitt's, "Memoir of a Telephone Operator, 1930," very interesting because it traces the development of the telephone as a piece of technology into an industry from the perspective of one of its earliest operators. Schmitt addresses the courtesy protocols that the New York Telephone Company enforced for its operators. I found this particularly interesting because it seems that courtesy and kindness were crucial for the adoption of the telephone over the telegram as the mainstream system of communication. Clients and operators developed personal relationships that made the technology more "user friendly" and this personal touch undoubtedly facilitated the adoption of the telephone. -Bryan Lees

The thing I liked most about "Memoir of a Telephone Operator" was the way in which the author's friends considered the telephone a new-fangled technology. I think many of us (at least me) tends to do the same thing when some technologies first come out. 'Why do we need that' or 'what can that possibly do' are common questions people ask when faced with new technlogies, much like people in the above-mentioned article ask. -- Jeff =P

I agree with Bryan about the "Memoir of a Telephone Operator, 1930" in many ways was it interesting. This almost seems like the beginning of customer service. The special way the operator had to behave and speak was interesting, makes me think when you call a credit card company or something they all sound similar in tone, etc. Also it does seem that this was a birds eye view of how the telephone moved through its paces. The last part that was interesting and almost refreshing is that here is a job for women. Men were not the first choice and proved to be not a good fit as an operator. Showed women having a little pride being the ones needed to fill a particular role, and not just seen as an extra pair of hands for hard labor. The hours were long and sometimes you got a break, but it was like women being a major part of something new and exciting.-Aislyn

I agree, it really does seem like the beginning of customer service. Women were really the only good choice for the position of telephone operators. I think that in most cases, people, especially men, would prefer to talk to a female while trying to make a call. A female voice is softer, making it easier to hear repeatedly (over many calls) for many men. The telephone was definitely an exciting new development for women because it allowed them to enter an entirely new job market that was designed for them. -- Kellye Sorber

In "Memoir of a Telephone Operator," one thing that stood out to me was when she was discussing the concept of the telephone in early stages and how it seemed like a toy to most people. “Those first years no one could afford a telephone except prosperous business men, who used it overtime to get their money’s worth, for it was an expensive toy,” (237). Now a days, it seems like the same comparison could be made but for the opposite reason. It’s now so common that everyone has phones in their homes and in their pocket and people buy new ones because they’re more fun and can do more. I also thought it was interesting how the telephone directory could be used as this elite listing of those people who could afford this new technology of the time and wonder if more wealthy people would subscribe not because they actually needed the technology but so that their name could be on this list to show that they can. --Jessica Kilday

When talking about the efficiency of the phone operators, I found it surprising that there was only a margin of “irregularities” of 15%. Especially when such irregularities occur simply by forgetting to say please or by not staying 100% with what was scripted for the operators. And Sherwood compares the speed with which the telephone operators have to work as being put in the middle of a street with busy traffic and trying to avoid being run over. Given this, I would think there would be more mistakes, or at least the number of mistakes would increase as the rate of speed or efficiency increased. But, it also doesn’t give you any idea of how they measure these things, so we don’t really have a sense of where the numbers come from, just that these are the standard rates. --Jessica Kilday

Virginia Penny’s “A New Employment for Women” is comparable to Virginia Penny’s previous article about watch making. Now, women are being employed as operators. It was said that women are better for the job because women have “reliable habits”, “an ability to abstract and concentrate thought upon their engagements”, and “greater patience and industry”. These reasons are comparable to the reasons that were given for women being better at watch making. Women seem to be given jobs that require patience, I guess men lack patience. - Erin Sanderson

The article “Mrs. Rayne Visits Western Union” explains how being an operator is a social position for women because they are not compromised, they are able to sit, and they don’t get dirty. However, the inequality in wages is incredible between the genders. The average salary for women is $500 per year while the average salary for a male is $70 per month. It is argued that this inequality is justified based on the fact that males have greater endurance and can be called upon at night. It is also stated that women can’t handle the difficult work. They give the example of the Annual President’s Message, women are not allowed to perform this task because it takes nerve. However, the article does not ask the opinion of women and how they feel about these accusations and justifications. When I went on to read Katherine Schmitt’s “Memoir of a Telephone Operator” I still didn’t get a real opinion about wage, perhaps it didn’t occur to the women to question the inequity, perhaps it was expected. - Erin Sanderson

One thing that really stood out to me and also was enjoyable to read was "Memoir of a Telephone Operator". What I really enjoyed from this reading was the fact that when telephones were first invented that were sold at high prices which only allowed for the richest to buy them. But what I never thought about was if only a few could buy a telephone, what was the point in having this technology. Did they all call each other and talk about how great it was to have such a wealthy staple of technology, since not many others had a phone? :D -- Jimmy Conroy

In "Memoir of a Telephone Operator" I also noticed that the telephone was seen as an toy when it was first invented; this is basically due to the fact that no one could afford the invention. Those people do not know how much the telephone is not only used in our lives, but how much it has changed our day to day lives, if they did I am guessing it would be seen as a toy to them. But what makes me think is how the telephone has changed, especially over the past ten years. If one thinks about it, telephones have gone from a toy to a necessity, back to being a toy. With the Apple iPhone, gadgets and games that comes with a phone these days, it is hard to find a phone that is just a phone. Did we get bored with the technology or are these improvements which can make our lives easier? Time will have to tell...--Jimmy Conroy

I find it interesting that in 1893 Mrs. Rayne describes that men in the telegraph business were paid more because they had greater endurance, had better transcribing skills, and had more “nerve” than women. Yet, Katherine Schmitt, when describing her early years in the 1880s as an operator, says that men didn’t last long working in the telephone operating business because they were rowdy and rude, leading to them being “abolished.” What made men supposedly better than women at telegraph operating, but not telephone operating? -- Taylor Brann

In response to Taylor, I think part of that goes back to what some people were talking about earlier, that it's kind of where we see customer service start to develop. Politeness is important, especially in the beginning when the subscribers and operators got to know each other more personally, to an extent. I also feel like the men may be more rude because I would imagine that it would be harder to talk with, or be the middle person, between people involved in bigger businesses. Especially since the operator position would have been inferior to those with which they would be in contact with everyday, or at least from a male perspective. --Jessica Kilday

It’s interesting to see the telephone’s early growth into a security system, particularly how women would leave the phone off the hook while they were alone at home so an operator could hear if something happened. Or more so, how some women actually left their children at home alone with the phone as a babysitter that could contact mothers if the children started crying. Paranoid? A little bit. Irresponsible? Very much so. But I think it certainly shows a growing trust in communication technology. -- Taylor Brann

In "Memoir of a Telephone Operator," I found it interesting that women were not only preferred for telephone operating, but boys were actually "abolished." In response to Taylor, I think that maybe it was not as big a deal for men to be "rowdy" while working at telegraph operating. They were not speaking directly to people, they were sending messages over the telegraph, in other words, there was no real personal interaction. I enjoyed this document because, as others pointed out, it led you through the development of the telephone. Also, I agree with Jimmy that it does seem that the telephone has made a full circle and ended up as a "toy" again. Much like only prosperous business men were able to have a telephone in the beginning, now only those who are well off are able to have the "best" phone out there - which has so many gadgets on it that it's almost hard to tell that it is even a phone anymore. -- Stefanie Holder

Katherine M. Schmitt's comments on the telephone say a great deal about society. In the early years one had to speak to an operator to be connected to who you wanted to call. People were often on a first name basis with their operators and made small talk with them. After phones had become commonplace by the 1930s (in the New York area at least) Schmitt notes that she and her fellow operators became part of the machine. No one wanted to speak to the operator, the phone had become just another part of fast-paced life. Another interesting thing to note was that people didn't pay for the minutes they used but were charged for a flat rate and therefore used their "toys" as much as possible. -Lauren Milner

Could the gendering of the telephone operating be due to the ability of managers to pay women less wages, rather than their customer service skills? - Lon

Katherine M Schmitt's memoir was an interesting read. I liked how she explained the telephone as a "temperamental child" and how she nursed it to maturity. The memoir also serves to show this moment in time that technologies to us were viewed as new and exciting and "hanging in the balance." Society today would be so different if telephones didn't make it. -Melissa Graham

Along with Katherine M. Schmitt's memoir, I found the "Rules for Operating Room Employees" and the different telephone advertisements interesting. I can't really imagine picking up a phone and there being another conversation on it from people next door and so the telephone courtesy advertisement was silly to me. -Melissa Graham

I liked the parts of Schmitt's memoir that focused on her friends. Her friends were so weirded out by the idea of someone working for the telephone industry. I particularly liked the part where the friend thought she must hear "such horrible things" over the phone. I empathize with that. It's weird to think of an operator having the ability to listen in to all the calls. -- Matt Struth

Katherine Schmitt article, "Memoir of a Telephone Operator," was a eye opening read. I would have never guess an invention to change society, who be looked as an "impractical toy." As Katherine explains, what seems like a toy at first grows to something bigger in the long run. Even though it was costly investment to have a telephone, I think that the way it grew it is remarkable. Just a few years go by and more and more people are getting into the use of the telephone. At first it started off with a few hundred subscriber who knew each other on a "friend" basis, but later on they had a hard time keeping up with the accelerated amount of people subscribing. One thing I don't understand is, why would they use boys to become operators when they all knew that they boys are still growing and that they have not matured fully. What would make someone think that it would be ok to put a bunch of boys in a room to do some actual hard work? -- Paul Kim

I enjoyed the article by Virginia Penny, A New Employment for Women. I thought it was quite interesting to see the advantages listed of using women as operators. I also was interested to see that some of the women commanded equal wages to men in this field, showing that there wasn't a glass ceiling in that profession. In response to Erin's comment on men not having patience, I would disagree, seeing as working in factories at that time was far more boring than connecting phones and writing messages, seeing as each message was at least different, and took more focus to make sure your hand was not crushed in machinery. -Brian Brown

One thing I noticed was that as the technology became more and more complicated, so did the coorespdonding operating jobs. Virginia Penny describes a job as telegraph operator in which it seems only patience and politeness is necessary. However in the clippings from the telephone review, it says "the standard of eligibility must be high" and goes on to mention that the person must be much above the average young woman, excluding those that are mentally or physically unfit. After the invention of the telephone, it seems being an operator became more scientific and tool more skill. -Karen Siegmund

In Katherine Schmitt's memoir, she describes on pg. 237 what I believed to be the most surprising piece of information introduced in this piece. According to Schmitt, women were left unsupervised in the workplace. Now, considering the time period we are referring to, which corresponds with the rise of industrialization and big business, I think this spoke a great deal about how valued the telephone industry was at the time. This seems to be the most credible evidence supporting her description of telephones as purely 'toys'. - Adam Shlossman

Ronell on Thomas Watson

When I first read this essay, I kind of laughed at the idea of the telephone belonging to the "spirit world." But after thinking about it a bit, I can understand why this assumption could be made about the telephone when it was first created. This was an invention that allowed people to communicate vocally instantaneously. It was almost like magic, or as Ronell said, like male witchcraft. It's hard to think of these inventions as something so new and mystifying because we're a population that can't imagine life without the telephone. But I guess for people who never experienced something like this before it had to be amazing and almost miraculous. Ronell may have seemed crazy in his little tirade, but I'm sure he wasn't alone in his thinking. -Kelly W.

I'm with you on this Kelly, I have been trying to take the non technological determinism way of thinking... not only were there alternatives and many trials and errors before technologies were chosen and put to use/produced etc., there was a great deal of mystery behind new technology. While Ronnell does seem to be a little wacked out (in my opinion), it does make perfect sense that the new technology of the telephone would be hard to comprehend from the get go - hearing voices of people that weren't in proximity became a skill that not only the crazies could acquire. --Elle

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is famous for having said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And I think this is largely true for the observers of technology. The strange thing about Ronell's account is that one of the main people working on the technology could see it is otherworldly. At the time, it seems perfectly possible for even someone involved in the sciences to be active in the occult. But Watson knew, for the most part, the processes involved in the function of the telephone. It seems strange that he would even think of attributing its machinations to angels or demons. But there is a way in which this could have seemed like magic. Though he was an electrician, Watson may not have fully understood the atomic level of his craft. He was simply directing forces of nature, such as lighting, in really interesting ways. Put that together with a man trying to send voices and draw pictures over long distances and tinkering with human ears, and it starts to sound like a wizard's workshop. -Sean B.

It's weird to think of such a famous engineer restoring to "spiritual" remedies to technological malfunctions. Ronell refers to Watson seeking a consult with a medium so as to enlist the spirits in giving their work on the telephone a boost. I find it funny, both that Watson was so disgusted he refused to do so again, and that Bell avoided the project from the beginning. It makes me wonder what Bell thought of Watson, and how their working relationship was, if Ronell is right in indicating that Bell thought Watson's beliefs were quackery. -- Matt S

I was particularly fascinated by the concept of an 'autograph telegraph', as mentioned on pg. 248. Often times we discuss the technology with potential for success that was neglected in favor of other alternatives. I thought that this warranted further explanation than the three sentences it received. This device, according to Ronell, was capable of transmitting facsimile writing and pictures as early as the 1870's. Was the demand for such communication that low, or did other fundamental problems prevent this autograph telegraph from working properly? At what point did this form of communication, which Bell favored as a use of his telegraph, get neglected? -Adam Shlossman

Venus Green, Personal Service in the Bell System

I found Venus Green's explanation of why women were chosen as telephone switchboard operators and why they continued to run said switchboards long after it became technologically possible to move to automated service to be very interesting. Green states that women are more patient than men and can better multitask. More than anything, it appears that the Bell Telephone Company desired to retain the intimacy and personal touch of its telephone communication through live, friendly operators long after its competitors switched to automated connection options. Bell's training manual and managers heavily emphasized the importance of courtesy at all times. In response, customers gave their telephone switchboard operators personal gifts in the same vein that people leave personal gifts or tips for newspaper boys. Bell's commitment to the personal relationship between its company and its clients is remarkable considering that it would have probably been much cheaper to switch over to automated service. Today voicemail and automatic recordings are a normal part of our world. We still find it considerate when businesses employ people to answer their phones or when a businessman answers his own phone. It just goes to show that society's desires in this regard have remained the same as the technology continues to skyrocket. -Bryan Lees

Going with what I was saying about women being the chosen people to be involved in the telephone. It was very neat that even when the phone technology was advancing the personal touch was still a vital part in the success. I know I would rather talk to a live person than an atuomated recording, because I feel like my questions/problems are being taken care of right and you also have proof (name of person) is something went wrong. It was interesting that in a time of making money and cornering the market, Bell kept with the live people over switching to an automated system. To me that showed a respect for the workers and the customers.-Aislyn

I agree with Aislyn, I like the personal touch. Even today I hate getting a machine when I am trying to make a call to a company for one reason or another. I do find it amazing the advancement in technology today; the personal touch has been replaced by an automated machine that can understand the voice and transfer the call when needed. To call the computer company or the train station a computer voice asks you several question and based on your response (voice response) transfers your call. I do find it interesting that the automated voice is still female. -- Kellye Sorber


Green's article points to a very interesting decision for telephone executives. Instead of adopting automatic systems, the Bell Company continued to hire women as operators. I don't see this as an attempt to maximize customer service, but rather tradition. The occupation was highly gendered due to the inherent feminine qualities of being an operator (patience, multitasking abilities, gentle voices). However, I think the decision to not adopt automated systems was a move to perpetuate this gendered occupation rather than maintain customer service. -- Lon

I was going to say what Bryan before me said. How Green illustrated what the telephone switchboard companies wanted to advertise to their subjected audience; patience, caring, and personal touch. This is atleast one profession where a woman is desired to do the job. --Maggie Wroe

I loved the idea that people used switchboard operators as a means of "ensuring their engagements". Basically, they were used the same way a hotel patron uses the front desk for wake up calls. It did make me think about a small piece of technology we have come to neglect, that is, the idea of an alarm. I am curious if alarms existed as this time, or rather, switchboard operators were used as a sort of free convienence. -Adam Shlossman

Bruno Latour, Ma Bell’s Road Trip

One of Latour's theme's in "Ma Bell's Road Trip" is change. He points out that when Millikan's physics meet the Bell Company, neither are the same. The Bell Company was now serving people across the continent and Millikan's research was greatly expanded. This is due to the Machiavellian-like alliances made by the telephone company. - Lauren Milner

What I liked about Latour's essay was the discussion of alliances and their importance in the creation process. Most people recognize Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone, Eli Whitney for the cotton gin, Henry Bessemer for steel, but what we've learned in this class is that these inventions were not solo projects. All of these men had someone else with them; maybe not a whole team but they sure as hell were not alone. Especially inventors like Thomas Edison. The alliances among scientists and then their willingness to work with other scientists to improve their inventions is something, I think, that is often overlooked. These inventors needed to work together to get their projects to work and then to improve them to improve society. They couldn't do this alone. -Kelly W.

I don't really think of science and engineering as an alliance game. This article does bring to light the fact that 1. (as Kelly mentions) it is not prudent/convenient to work alone on projects. 2. It suggests that alliances and group members are not permanent, and that in order for progress to really be made, the invention must withstand weak alliances falling through etc. It is a political game. This reminds me of Edison's Menlo labs - He had already gotten the wealthy investors from previous inventions and had built good alliances and had appropriate resources - like fellow engineers and scientists to work with, but also MONEY to make the process easier. I think one thing that wasn't necessarily stressed when talking about alliances is that funding is also key to success as an inventor of new technologies.

Bruno's article made me realize that we have advanced so far. As stated in the article, the idea of running a telephone line from the West Coast to the East Coast was almost an impossible feat. We can just jump on the internet now and with the help of social networking we can keep in touch with a blink of an eye. Just to think, that establishing communication few kilometers was a great accomplishment. -Paul Kim

I found it fascinating the uses of the mechanical repeaters to be fascinating in this article. Additionally I thought it was interesting that one of Bell's employee's ties to science helped the company as a whole develop even further. Finally, I found the transition of small labs and university labs to large corporate funded laboratories to be the most important change that this article pointed out. This transition led the way for many more break throughs in technology and science and has helped shape the world as we know it today. -Brian Brown

I didn't realize before I read this that there was difficulty building a transcontinental line. I assumed that once the telephone was invented, the wires were effective enough to allow transcontinental communication, but actually most calls could only travel a few miles. This would have greatly limited the effectiveness and usefulness of the telephone. It wasn't until a new electronic repeater was invented that the idea became a reality. -Karen Siegmund