Makeup blog: Blog 1: Edison’s Phonograph

31 May

In Thomas Edison’s “The Phonograph and its future” he makes predictions of the effects the phonograph will have on the future society. In fact, as he was writing it, he was still tinkering with the phonoautograph, an earlier version of the phonograph although he already announced the news of the phonograph. Since this article, the phonoautograph did become the phonograph, which led way to telephones, radios, voice recorders (on the telephone), “talkies”, to more modern technologies such as walkmans and cassettes. When he wrote the article, Edison claimed that the then current uses of the phonograph were so closely tied to the possibilities of future use that he put them all under one section which included: letter writing and other forms of dictation written word, books, musical boxes, toys, clocks, advertising, signaling apparatus, speeches, etc. (Edison) He also included a basic FAQ section regarding how the phonograph ‘currently’ worked in its most elementary form.

With these “actualities” of the phonograph listed in his article, he also closely tied in the “probabilities” for his invention. The characteristics of the phonograph which Edison listed as indefinite repetition of data, economically cheap medium, easily transported, useful for communications, easy identification of tone, easy duplication, privatization, rapid dictation, and easily stored and filed was the basis that Edison foresaw the future “probabilities”. (Edison) Edison had high expectations for this invention, such as becoming part of people’s daily lives, having voice boxes for toys, most of which came true that would revolutionize the storage of time, space, and information in media.

The telephone and radio, two progressive inventions which stemmed from the phonograph have met and probably exceeded Edison’s high expectations. Edison, as he writes in his “The Phonograph and its Future”, believed that the “captivity of all manner of sound waves heretofore designated as “fugitive” and their permanent retention.” The creation of records from the medium of the phonograph fulfilled that expectation, allowing the permanence and repeatability of sound to be stored. The radio and telephone shifted ideas of time and space that sound was once limited by. The record allowed that sound liberated from time and space to be forever still- kept and used at a future time. Furthermore, the invention of the phonograph and its future probabilities that Edison foresaw not only changed the technology of sound, but expanded it above and beyond what Edison predicted. In Katz’s “Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music”, we see the listed effects of the phonograph that were the basic foundations of the revolution in sound technology: tangibility, portability, invisibility, repeatability, temporality, receptivity, and manipulability. These characteristics were all addressed by Edison in his “The Phonograph and its Future” when Edison had not even fully perfected the phonograph and was still working on its predecessor invention, the phonoautograph. That he was so confident that his sound invention would revolutionize the world shows the importance of sound and the ear itself, which was often an overlooked sense and organ.

Ann Chan


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