View sample Telephone Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our custom writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.
Since its invention in 1876, the telephone has become, literally, a ﬁxture of everyday life throughout the industrialized world and much of the developing world as well. It is so commonplace that only its absence becomes noteworthy (such as in school classrooms and prisons). Too easily forgotten by laypeople and scholars alike is the miracle of being able at any time to place a call to any other subscriber worldwide. The enormous value of the telephone can be appreciated if one only considers the plight of a villager who wants to know if there might be work available in a nearby town, or who needs to summon aid for a sick family member.
Also easily overlooked are the ramiﬁcations of this global connectivity. By allowing us to transcend a variety of physical and social barriers, the telephone has led to a complex set of dispersed personal and commercial relationships. By any measure, the telephone has dramatically altered the social landscape. Cars and airplanes were adumbrated respectively by horse-drawn vehicles and birds. Yet, in human imagination the power of real-time interactive oral communication over great distances had been a power reserved exclusively for divine beings. Given this godlike power of the telephone it is little wonder that it has been one of history’s most successful inventions. Little wonder, too, that some of earliest experiments with it were designed to ascertain whether the telephone could be used to communicate with the dead. (Perhaps not regrettably, the answer is that it cannot.)
1. Global And Microcoordination
Today, for a billion people, the act of making or receiving a telephone call in their home or business is a normal, often daily, occurrence. (Another billion, at the other end of the development spectrum, have in their entire lives never used a telephone.) For rapidly growing numbers of people worldwide, car driving and cityscape walking are becoming settings for making and receiving phone calls. In the United States, 200 or so billion calls are made annually from 100 million households, with many billions more generated from oﬃces, mobile phones, and computers. Given the commonplace quality of the ordinary telephone it remains hard for us to delineate, let alone appreciate, the telephone’s ramiﬁcations throughout global societies and the interior world of individual psyches.
Although the telephone has numerous cumulative macrosocial consequences, most of them are predicated on its ability to support social interaction. An essential aspect of the telephone is its ability to allow coordination among geographically dispersed (or even locally concentrated) people. Numerous studies demonstrate that the telephone promotes business, sociality, democracy and information ﬂow. For those who are physically handicapped or otherwise constrained, it opens vast arrays of contacts. (It is interesting and perhaps surprising to note that the telephone has increased greatly the social contacts and informational resources for the deaf, via TTY interfaces. This quality is particularly gratifying given Alexander Graham Bell’s original interest in helping the deaf.)
The telephone allows convenient management over distance, and via voice messages, asynchronously. Upon its basis, extraordinarily large enterprises can be established and eﬀectively controlled. As a corollary, those who would otherwise have greater independence ﬁnd themselves circumscribed by those (sometimes literally) above them. The telephone has enabled the rapid conduct of large-scale ﬁnancial transactions and has greatly assisted the formation of capital markets.
A collateral eﬀect is that digital telephonic technology, including voice-mail systems, has been partly responsible for the elimination of huge numbers of middle managers and support staﬀ throughout American industry. Ironically, many of these positions were created in the ﬁrst place to deal with the communication ﬂood created by the analogue telephone. This picture is also inﬂuenced by the answering machines, which of course allow the conveyance of telephone messages without human intervention. In former times, self-respecting managers, professors or other professionals would be reluctant to conduct their business without having a secretary on staﬀ. (Indeed, much eﬀort necessarily went into ‘faking’ the existence of a secretary to act as an intermediary.) Today, for many professionals, having a secretary would seem to be not only wasteful but also an indication to their clients that they are out of touch with current best practices.
The proliferation of digital answering machines also aﬀects the tenor of professional events. For instance, it used to be the case that at a conference or symposium, the break-time would be used for social interaction and enjoying the ‘here and now’ aspects of the conference venue. Nowadays, however, attendees rush outside to use their mobile phones or crowd the payphone booths in an attempt to call their remote answering machines, collect messages, and return phone calls. In another context, the mobile phone and pager has led to a new form of social eﬀrontery. While seemingly engaged in conversation, one coolly glances down and scrolls through messages on one’s communication device, all the while nodding sagely as if heeding every word uttered by one’s interlocutor. These are a few of the many faces of what Kenneth Gergen has termed ‘absent presence.’ People are seemingly at an event or socially engaged, but their attention and mental focus is elsewhere.
Telephones, especially mobile phones, increase the pace and eﬃciency of life. They also allow more ﬂexibility and individual eﬃciency at business and professional levels and at those of family and personal life. Moreover, people can take action to allay the feeling they are not accomplishing enough. People can harness spare time, or time previously spent in tasks that do not require much attention (for instance, waiting on a shopping queue) to plan and coordinate with others, get information, or even shop remotely by phone while they also shop in person. On the other hand, those who treasure respite may ﬁnd themselves pressured to replace otherwise excusable isolation with productive tasks. Once upon a time, being aboard an airplane excused an executive from having to interact with colleagues. No more, for the fax and phone now follow even at six miles high; nor are the seashore and mountaintop beyond their reach. An age of perpetual contact, at least in potential terms, is dawning.
Despite the many advantages to having the telephone available any time and anywhere, there are drawbacks to it as well at both the individual and social levels. The telephone can be a minor irritant or a conduit for crime. In terms of the former, many social critics of the late nineteenth century expressed irritation at the way the telephone seemed to destroy the orderly pace of life, the considerable pleasures of social propriety and as well those of solitude and reﬂection; the target has remained lucrative, and the frustrations of telephone use and abuse remain a staple of the screen, both large and small. The telemarketing solicitation, of which there is a rising tide, is also an oft-remarked-upon irritant. Telemarketers themselves use market research, so it is no accident that their calls seem to arrive at dinnertime or other exquisitely inconvenient moments. More serious, though, is that there are a large variety of swindles—some of which even use computer-aided dialing schemes—that prey especially on those with the least social resources. Stalking by telephone and obscene phone calls to both men and women are also serious problems. On the other hand, with advances in technology that give call recipients greater power to control access to themselves (such as increasingly popular caller-identiﬁcation services) people are better able to manage their communication environment to suit their individual tastes and needs.
The increasingly nuanced technology available to callers and callees demands ever greater sophistication to achieve a ﬂawless performance of the choreography of communication. Think of the dilemma of a shy but sedulous teenage boy who wants to ask a popular girl to the school prom. Presumably he would not want to leave on her caller-identiﬁcation box a perusable record of his forty or so attempted calls before ﬁnally reaching her. The degrees of freedom and maneuver are reduced with intriguing consequences that cannot be explored here. Suﬃce it to say that, sadly, it appears that there is an iron law of telephone contact: people generally get the most calls from those from whom they would least like to hear, and vice versa.
In all, though at times a source of irritation and adroit tool of criminal activity, the telephone has proven to be an important factor in increasing the pace, scope and intensity of business and management operations while simultaneously lowering the cost of engaging in these activities. It has had a parallel eﬀect on people’s levels of social interaction.
2. Geographical Distribution
The telephone has inﬂuenced substantially the distribution of people across the physical landscape. On the one hand, the telephone has allowed the massive vertical downtown urban center to survive then thrive. Without the telephone, the skyscraper would have been most diﬃcult to build and manage. Further, it would be diﬃcult for the structure to maintain its usefulness to its denizens without the telephone.
Some claim that the telephone has enabled one particular form of geodemographic dispersion, the suburb. However, detailed studies of transportation system development indicate that the telephone was not an important factor in this remarkable internal migration. Still, the telephone does allow many in rural locations to participate in business and social relations in a viable way, which without the telephone would not be possible. At the same time, those in extremely low-density areas have persistent diﬃculty getting even minimal telephone service; the situation is exacerbated by the fact that this populace is generally poor and remote from economic opportunities. This, unfortunately, is a social problem that will endure for decades. The telephone, though, has allowed those who choose isolation—and such people are often drawn from the middle and upper strata of society—to enjoy it without having to forego ready communication. Some seek to ‘get away from it all’ but still want employment as consultants, or at least to stay in convenient contact with friends, family, and emergency services.
3. Economic Development
It has long been an article of faith that the telephone promotes economic development and social welfare. This belief has had powerful repercussions on national telecommunications policies worldwide. These have ranged from subsidized rates for the poor, subsidized rates for everyone, and special incentives for telephone companies to modernize their systems or physically extend their services to remote areas. Certainly there has been a strong association between telephone lines and economic growth, particularly, as Hudson (1984) has shown, in developing countries. Researchers have demonstrated a logarithmic relationship between main telephone lines and national income on a per capita basis, although the direction of the causal arrow has not yet been established.
What is not in doubt is that the telephone itself fosters employment growth, not the least to serve itself as an industry. In the early days of mechanical switches, when telephone systems were growing dramatically, it was speculated that within a generation all young boys in America would have to be employed simply to connect phone calls. Although this scenario never materialized, phone companies have traditionally been enormous consumers of manpower, and are usually one of the largest employers of a region. Traditional telephone companies everywhere, though, are for the most part looking for ways to reduce their traditional workforces, heavily concentrated in jobs of installation or as operators. They are replacing vast numbers of these workers with smaller numbers of software engineers and technicians.
Yet even as the workers per 1,000 telephone lines decreases worldwide, employment in the wireless telephone industry has mushroomed. In many cases, the growth in the mobile phone sector has far surpassed the cuts in the traditional wireline companies (many of which were formerly government ministries of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone services or PTTs). As the expense of laying copper wire is far greater than erecting a radio tower, many people in developing countries are gravitating to mobile phones simply because they can get them more quickly than wireline ones. It is my guess that because the mobile phone are more ﬂexible and can be used in more places, the economic impact of growth in mobile phones will be greater than that of the growth of their tethered counterparts.
Telephones can have other economic eﬀects: they ease the job prospecting process directly, increasing economic eﬃciency by making it easier to change jobs. Also, by using the telephone as a sales tool, consumption is stimulated, which leads to job creation and economic growth. Staﬃng the sales force alone of course means that jobs will be created. To illustrate by the situation in the US, according to the Direct Marketing Association, spending devoted to telephone marketing is about $62 billion annually and comprises nearly 40 percent of the nation’s direct marketing expenditures. The telephone’s indirect employment impact in telemarketing is substantial; in 1998, employment in direct telephone marketing was estimated at more than nine million workers.
Although much of the prior discussion focused on macroeconomic eﬀects, it is also worth mentioning the two-fold microeconomic impact of the telephone. First, it allows individuals to run their own business, often from their home or voice mailbox. Thus, it encourages small enterprises. Yet, it also encourages large-scale enterprises as well since it allows ﬁrms to capture the beneﬁts of large size without excessive coordination costs as discussed above.
4. Polity And Politics
Due to its ability to connect quickly remote areas, the telephone has helped foster national integration. At a structural level, it also serves to centralize exercise political authority while concomitantly circumscribing regional centers of power. Notwithstanding this structural aspect, the telephone has something of a reverse consequence for individual political empowerment. In this regard, Ball (1968) and Aronson (1971) argue that the telephone has been a politically democratizing instrument. There is much to this viewpoint, and studies have shown that, controlling for levels of economic development, in Communist countries of Eastern Europe there were equivalent numbers of TV sets when compared to their Western European counterparts. However, there were drastically fewer telephones. The presumed reason for this maldistribution is that the telephone enables two-way communication, whereas the TV allows controlled information to be sent in a one-way direction from centralized source to a passive mass audience.
The important role the telephone system could play in controlling the populace has not been lost on governments. In the late nineteenth century, France wanted a centralized, governmentally controlled telephone system because authorities anticipated that rebels might otherwise be able to seize control of it during an uprising. During the Soviet communist regime, the absence of telephone books in Moscow was legendary. Telephone tapping is a long practiced art that has been used to ﬁght crime and enemies of the state.
Revolutionaries as much as police recognize that the telephone is the body politic’s nervous system. Hence, it is the universal target for those seeking to subvert or protect the government. Lenin directed that the telephone and telegraph oﬃces be initial targets of his Bolshevik seizure of power. As a contrary example, we point to the August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev and his government. The plotters failed to seize the telephone system. Consequently, the anti-Communists were able to use it to rally themselves. Boris Yeltsin and his supporters, barricaded in the Parliament building, were able to make and receive calls from around the country and the world; they used this power to marshal and coordinate support. A report on Russianet even claims the parliamentary defenders were able to phone in their food orders to the Moscow Pizza Hut. The telephone facilitates the management of political campaigns and the operation of political organizations.
For well-organized campaigns, the telephone bank has become an important element in any contest. They can also be used to generate otherwise lethargic public interest in issues. In the United States, a neologism has been created to describe the abuse of this process. The term is ‘astroturﬁng,’ in honor of the artiﬁcial grass of the same name. Astroturﬁng is the process of using telephone banks to create the incorrect impression among politicians that there is a ‘grass-roots’ swell of public concern about an issue when in fact there is little or none. Instead, the outpouring of opinion on the issue had been catalyzed by a small group of telephone operators who ‘pipe through’ a citizen to her representative’s oﬃce to recite a prepared message. This example provides further demonstration of the principle that telephone technology has an impact that is governed largely by the motive of the user.
5. Societal Aspects
Traditional sociological variables of age, social class, socioeconomic status, gender, and race ethnicity inﬂuence people’s relationships with the telephone. Young people are generally much more likely to adopt new technology than their older counterparts. Material resources, as measured by income, also have a noteworthy eﬀect. Predictably, those at the very bottom of a society’s income distribution are least likely to have telephone service. More surprisingly, as shown by Katz’s (1999) research, people in the third income quartile are disproportionately represented among purchasers of enhanced telecom services. This may be because these services are perceived as entertaining or of high prestige. This noteworthy trend occurs in both Europe and the US; whether it obtains in other regions is unknown.
Since its inception, there have been speculations about the small-group and social interactional consequences of the telephone. Marvin (1988), in her path breaking study of the social reception of the telephone (among other nineteenth century electrical technologies), demonstrated that concerns over the impact of the telephone were reproductive of those the larger society. Among these were the erosion of family authority, race and social class barriers, and sexual and social propriety. Also of substantial concern was disrespectful and deceitful behavior. Victorian-era Americans believed, justiﬁably, that the telephone reduced social cues ordinarily conveyed in the richer channels of face-to-face interaction and written correspondence. By masking cues, such as the location and social status of the caller, the telephone denied important cues to assist in making judgments about the interlocutor. Thus, it would be easier to violate social and legal codes. These concerns remain substantial even after a century of telephone use, and are born anew with contemporary communication technology such as the Internet.
The telephone plays a role in the conduct of gender relations and in the pursuit of sexual gratiﬁcation. In contemporary, often suburbanized society, the telephone has become an important means by which teens socialize themselves, build and sustain their relationships, and amuse themselves in an historical period when they are deﬁned as problematical non-adults Wynn and Katz 2000. Commonly, women run the ‘social work’ of maintaining family links and social schedules via the telephone. (All other things being equal, when both a man and a woman are in a room together, a woman is twice as likely to answer a ringing phone.) Rakow (1992) has documented the important role the telephone plays in women’s relationships, and the ways it provides support for their independence despite various constraints and provides them with social resources they need to pursue their relationships and goals.
As in other areas, the telephone can enhance coordination in people’s search for partners. The telephone’s role in abetting prostitution has long been noted. (Indeed, a term-of-art, ‘call-girls,’ clearly refers to the role of the telephone.) While it is impossible to capture precisely the temporal, economic, or organizational magnitude of the telephone’s role in the commercial sex industry, plainly large sections of the yellow pages and of urban newspapers are devoted presenting this information in a slightly hidden argot to knowing patrons. Phone booths in many countries are littered daily with miniature handbills enticing customers to one service or another.
The telephone can also serve as a less direct conduit for sexual expression. Indeed, the conduct of remote interactive sex is an entirely de no o mode of expression enabled by the phone. The remote as well as the disembodied aspects of a telephone call can have its sexual appeal, and in this regard one hardly need mention the candlestick design that characterized phones for a half century. By relying on its aural and fantasy capabilities, it can also serve as a safe and sanitary substitute for in-person sex. Recognizing this pent-up demand, an entire industry of ‘pink services’ has sprung up in any country where it is allowed. Deﬁnitive data as to its size are diﬃcult to obtain, but an instructive dataset can be derived from the Austrian experience. Austrian law had forbidden phone sex historically. However, in 1991, a revenuesharing arrangement was established so that oﬀshore companies could beneﬁt from premium international telephone tariﬀs. The Dutch Antilles became a center of such ‘pink services’, and numerous companies began placing ads in Austrian newspapers giving their Antillian numbers. The results were dramatic and instructive. For all of 1990, the total duration in minutes of calls to the Dutch Antilles from Austria was exactly 13,050. For the ﬁrst nine months alone of 1991, the number of minutes of calls from Austria to the Dutch Antilles exceeded 1,600,000.
Not all telephone sex is predicated on a ﬁnancial arrangement. Many millions of obscene calls are reported annually to authorities. Both men and women make obscene phone calls to obtain erotic stimulation from the reaction of their shocked victims. These types of calls seem to occur throughout the world wherever a telephone system is present. As a case in point, within six months after the ﬁrst automatic telephone network was installed in Papua New Guinea, an obscene phone call was reported to authorities. A third class of sexually oriented telephone call is neither commercial nor inﬂicted on victims, but rather occurs by mutual consent. For decades, lovers have enjoyed erotic phone conversations, and the topic receives substantial treatment in literary and cinematic formats. Nevertheless, seldom has public attention to this private aspect of human behavior risen to the heights it did in 1998. As part of a larger relentless investigation, an incident of sexual gratiﬁcation via telephone between US President Bill Clinton and his White House aide, Monica Lewinsky, was given protracted national media attention and related to Congress in an oﬃcial report. Thus, presidents and perverts alike serve to demonstrate that the telephone, like every other communication technology—from the video camera to the car, and from the printed book to the web-enabled mobile phone—can be used by people as a context for sexual excitement and fulﬁllment.
Another striking aspect of the telephone is its use as a tool of personal empowerment. With emergency phone boxes set up on campuses, and especially with the mobile phone, people can feel safer in public areas. It has expanded the places and times that people, and especially women, can go to a variety of places, thus increasing people’s freedom and mobility. It also permits parents to expand the privileges they give their children in terms of when and where they can go. This has the intriguing result of both increasing and loosening parental control.
The telephone also enhances individual autonomy by allowing people to live more successfully by themselves. Yet it preserves instant access between those experiencing a medical or police emergency and a variety of support services. In addition, a substantial variety of community and psychological services are available at any hour and often with complete anonymity.
As with any technology, the use to which it is put is inﬂuenced by the motives of the human user. Just as not all people are good, neither are all purposes to which the telephone is put benign. The telephone has oﬀered new venues for monitoring individuals, invading their privacy, and harming them materially or psychologically. In terms of monitoring, the wireless revolution, particularly as it intersects with the telephone, is increasingly aﬀecting all aspects of social interaction, from the conduct of relationships to the receipt of medical care. These technologies will not only be used to deliver services but as well to monitor individuals. In the past telephonic monitoring has targeted parolees and the elderly. The number of citizens who are regularly and passively tracked will be increasing; this will be done through the data collected by systems used to regulate mobile phones and intelligent highways. Already mobile phone records are being used in civil (e.g., divorce actions) and criminal cases (e.g., the apprehending of kidnappers).
The telephone also gives individuals tremendous powers to aﬀect others’ lives at a distance. Though often used in pranks and practical jokes, the telephone has also been used to inﬂict protracted harassment and terror on others. Such practices include spreading malicious rumors, making harassing calls late at night, and even concocting identities in order to manipulate or frighten someone. In one case, a young girl pretended to be a nurse, and in this guise reported (falsely) to another girl that her lab test results indicated that she had AIDS and was pregnant. The girl victim attempted suicide and disaster was only narrowly averted. The culprit was caught using caller- ID.
Turning our attention to the underpinnings of social life, Fischer (1992) found that a social–psychological eﬀect of the telephone was that it seemed to accelerate the pace of social life. His classic study, America Calling, found that the spread of the telephone in the US reduced isolation and increased social contact. A concomitant ﬁnding is that a good proportion of telephone users experienced anxiety or ‘communication apprehension.’ Many citizens also feared excessive social contact, becoming the subject of telephone gossip, and being subjected to unwanted calls. However, he found no support for more extreme claims that it brought people to a constantly heightened sense of alertness and anxiety over the potential summoning outcry of the telephone’s ringing bell. Fischer concludes that the telephone cannot be implicated and the emergence of ‘psychological modernity,’ that is, the contemporary sensation of free-ﬂoating anxiety and dehumanization. Rather, he concludes that on the whole, people readily and comfortably assimilated the telephone into their lives. They used it as ‘the conscious product of people employing things, not of things controlling people.’
6. Technological Convergence
It is impossible to speak of today’s telephone exclusively in its formerly traditional wireline conﬁguration. Mobile phones, discussed below, are but one aspect of this telephonic reconﬁguration; it extends to all aspects of voice communication. One salient aspect is the way people manage their calls. For instance, in the US, the majority of telephone subscribers also have some form of answering machine. This device changes how people use their phones, e.g., to monitor before picking up the receiver, and which in turn aﬀects the behavior of the caller (‘I know you’re there! Come on, pick up.’). Having the telephone answered by a machine was until 1987 seen by the majority of the US population as an act of rudeness to callers. It was emblematic of the fear that ‘robots would take over,’ and that people were losing control over their daily lives. (This also ties into the above point about the importance of having a secretary to handle one’s calls.)
Today opinion surveys show that the majority judges it an important courtesy that should be extended to callers. Some even go so far as to say that it is rude not to have an answering machine or voice mail. Still, the answering machine voice mail is but one of the ever-multiplying ancillary service that are being added to the formerly black ‘one-size-ﬁts-all’ telephone. These include built-in faxes, caller-ID, three-way calling, call-waiting, and call-trace; together they are changing what a telephone is and how it is used, as well as the subterfuges that are used to work around the telephone’s expanded capabilities.
Even as the telephone becomes more powerful and capable, it is becoming tetherless. Not only is the home phone increasingly likely to be cordless with reception to a 1/2-kilometer from base, but people are increasingly subscribing to mobile telephone services that will allow them to range across continents. Moreover, some people are abandoning their wireline phones entirely; in the US, about four percent of subscribers have done so already and their numbers are increasing. Among other things, this trend means the loss of geographical meaning to area codes. Conversely, the physical telephone line is for most Internet users their primary access mode; but mobile telephones are also becoming Internet enabled. Although currently most users access the Internet via the computer, it seems inevitable that soon the majority will be doing so from enhanced mobile phones.
Computers themselves are increasingly encompassing the features of the telephone, becoming Internet phones and answering machines and voice chat messaging units. Personal digital assistants are beginning to act as both mobile phones and portable computers. Platform capabilities are becoming intermixed, that is, telephone conversations can occur virtually anywhere with anybody via any machine. One consequence of this technological advance is that, without too much hyperbole, it appears that there is arising a new sense of ‘perpetual contact.’ This new state will allow better co-ordination, improved business operations and enhanced kin and social relations. It will also introduce new conﬂict over the appropriate norms for, and possible constraints on, people’s public behavior. To cite an instance, there are now mobile phone-free rail cars and restaurant sections.
Already, however, the proliferation of mobile phones has created a brouhaha over their use in public places, most especially while driving cars. Though some of the controversy revolves around manners and appropriate levels of sensitivity, the larger issue of the use of and conduct in public places is only beginning to be addressed. It remains an unsolved puzzle for social scientists and the architectural profession to create public spaces that can amenably coexist with privatizing mobile telephonic behavior. However, the much more powerful issue is the question of safety. Mobile phones mean not only that lives can and will be saved but also that—because there are those who elect to use it while driving—lives will be lost. Sadly, there is a growing toll of people killed by mobile phone using drivers. Those who are aﬀected by such tragedies will be fostering legislation to restrict the use of mobile phones in cars.
7. The Telephone As Synecdoche For The Modern Condition
The telephone has had substantial impact on the structure and quality of human existence, from business to sex, and on the conduct of war and peace from the international to the intra-family level. Never has so small a device been used so easily by so many to do so much to so many.
The use and abuse of the telephone encapsulates and expresses the dimensions of social scientiﬁc perspectives on modern life. What happens in the larger canvas of life is reproduced within the ambit of life on the telephone. The telephone’s impact stems from the inherent qualities of a technology that allows easy, inexpensive real-time interaction by voice over both short and great distance. People have investigated aggressively and exploited this technology’s potential. Through this unrelenting eﬀort, there has been an isomorphism between what the technology can achieve—as its capabilities become more sophisticated—and the needs and desires that exist within mankind’s biological and social framework.
The telephone system has been used in ways as broad as the human imagination, many times in ways that were never envisioned (or were even opposed) by telephone company system designers and marketers. Telephone systems have been used to broadcast operas and provide wakeup, dial-a-joke, and dial-a-prayer services. Psychological and emergency services, astrological advice, and interactive matchmaking services are among its staples. Users themselves have created a variety of ‘work-arounds’ to beat the telephone system (e.g., tone generating boxes that allowed caller to bypass toll charging mechanisms). None of these uses or innovations was foreordained. Rather, as shown by Coopersmith (1991), far from a calculated manipulation of telephone company executives, some innovations as enormously successful as the fax and answering machine were at various points in their development opposed and thwarted by telephone company executives.
No dictator, the telephone has become a servant to those pursuing proﬁt and pleasure. The picture after more than a century and a quarter is quite unlike those sketched originally by hand-wringing dysutopians, such as Mark Twain. These critics saw the technology as depleting social capital, killing social relationships, and inducing depression (a view similar to today’s critics of the Internet).
On balance, the telephone has clearly done far more to liberate humanity than enslave it. This observation is not meant to downplay the harm that can be and is inﬂicted telephonically. Like two other communication technologies—the airplane and the car—the telephone can be used for both good and evil. It can be used to wreak suﬀering and terror; it can be used to carry messages of love, hope, and redemption beyond the vast oceans. In this context, then, we should recall the lessons of the Bible and the Greek myths that even the existence of a powerful god is not without frustration.
- Aronson S H 1971 The sociology of the telephone. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 12: 153–67
- Ball D W 1968 Towards a sociology of telephones and telephoners. In: Truzzi M (ed.) Sociology and Everyday Life. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliﬀs, NJ, pp. 59–75
- Coopersmith J 1991 The failure of the fax: When a vision is not enough. Business and Economic History 23: 272–82
- Fischer C 1992 America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
- Gergen K J 2000 A century of absent presence. In: Katz J E, Aakhus M (eds.) Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk and Public Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
- Hudson H 1984 When Telephones Reach the Village: The Role of Telecommunications in Rural Development. Ablex, Norwood, NJ
- Katz J E 1999 Connections: Social and Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ
- Marvin C 1988 When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press, New York
- Pool I de Sola 1977 The Social Impact of the Telephone. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
- Rakow L F 1992 Gender on the Line: Women, the Telephone, and Community Life. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL
- Wynn E, Katz J E 2000 Teens on the telephone. Info 2(4): 401–19