Jon Gernter: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (2012)

7 May 2013, dusan

“High-handed corporate monopoly and high-minded national treasure, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was a unique project of America’s pragmatism and for decades the envy of the world in extending low-cost local telephone service. At the heart of AT&T was its R&D unit, Bell Laboratories, the world’s greatest entity of its kind, and a giant manufacturing arm, Western Electric.

The Idea Factory is the first study of Bell Labs that puts its history in its full organizational, political, and administrative context. AT&T was a company striving to expand and maintain a privileged empire under a government that saw it alternatively as a trusted military/industrial partner and an anticompetitive threat. This ambiguous embrace, New York Times Magazine writer Jon Gertner suggests, inadvertently encouraged a culture that combined a gifted and diverse workforce with a long-term outlook, creating the foundations of a new information economy, which in turn made radical changes in the charter of the parent company inevitable.

Gertner’s story is the interaction between three leaders of Bell Labs in its critical years—Mervin Kelly, Jim Fisk, and William Oliver Baker—and three of its greatest scientific minds: William Shockley, Claude Shannon, and John Pierce.” (from a review by Edward Tenner)

Publisher The Penguin Press, New York, 2012
ISBN 1594203288, 9781594203282
422 pages
via Steve McLaughlin

review (Edward Tenner, Issues in Science and Technology)
review (Dave Tompkins, Slate)
review (Jesse Hicks, The Verge)

google books

PDF (EPUB, updated on 2013-5-7)
PDF (MOBI, updated on 2013-5-7)

Bernhard Siegert: Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System (1993–) [DE, EN]

11 May 2012, dusan

“This book examines how one aspect of the social and technological situation of literature—namely, the postal system—determined how literature was produced and what was produced within literature. Language itself has the structure of a relay, where what is transmitted depends on a prior withholding. The social arrangements and technologies for achieving this transmission thus have had a particularly powerful impact on the imagination of literature as a medium.

The book has three parts. The first part reconstructs the postal conditions of classic and Romantic literature: the invention of postage in the seventeenth century, which transformed the postal system into a service meant to be used by the population (instead of by the prince alone); the sexualization of letter writing, which was introduced in the middle of the eighteenth century and changed the reading of a letter into an interpretation of intimate confessions of the soul; and Goethe’s turning of this new ontology of the letter into a logistics of literature whereby literary authorship was constructed by means of postal logistics, with the precision of engineering.

The second part analyzes nineteenth-century postal innovations that facilitated communication through letters and examines how literary works were able to live off such communication. These innovations included the reform of the post office; the invention of the postage stamp; the Universal Postal Union, which subjected letter writing to an economy of materials and uniform standards; and the telegraph and the telephone, which surpassed literature in terms of speed, economy, and analog-signal processing.

In the third part, on the basis of a close reading of Franz Kafka’s letters to his typist-fiancée, the author demonstrates how postal logistics of love and authorship have worked in the era of modern postal systems and technical media. Kafka’s correspondence is deciphered as a “war of nerves” waged by means of all available techniques and conditions of transmission.”

Publisher Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin, 1993
ISBN 3922660525
317 pages

English edition
Translated by Kevin Repp
Publisher Stanford University Press, 1999
ISBN 9780804732369
340 pages

Reviews: Peter Berz (Mediamatic, 1994), Daniel Punday (Electronic Book Review, 2000/01), Esther Leslie (Mute, 2008), Hans Kellner (19C Contexts, 2006).
Commentary: Reinhold Martin (Grey Room, 2016).

Publisher (EN)

Relais: Geschicke der Literatur als Epoche der Post, 1751-1913 (German, 1993, updated on 2012-6-13)
Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System (English, trans. Kevin Repp, 1999, Intro and ch 1 missing, added on 2014-5-20 via lostobserver)

Bill Stewart: Living Internet (2000)

27 February 2012, dusan

An in-depth reference about the Internet.

The site was written from 1996 through 1999, first published on the web on January 7, 2000, and updated regularly. It has more than 700 pages, 2,000 intra-site links, and 2,000 external links to some of the world’s best online content about the Internet.

The site is authored by Bill Stewart who has used the Internet since 1988, and first appreciated the power of the medium during the Tiananmen Square rebellion in China in 1989, when he saw how the net kept Chinese communities around the world in touch with the events through email and newsgroups, bypassing all government censorship.

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