Drawing on approaches from sound studies, this essay explores a historical role of a sound technology, telephony, in assessing desirable people, especially ideal and sanctioned consumers, as conveyed by seven short instructional films from the 1920s to the 1960s. After examining how telephony is represented visually and aurally, I argue that the essence of telephony’s sonic experience—intimate intersubjectivity—is largely missing from these depictions. These depictions contribute to constitutive discourses of telephone usership; they help define a proper or sound telephone user and ideal telephonic practices. Yet such discourses are also entangled with other flows of social meaning-making and power relations. In mapping the contours of good and bad users, telephone training films harness social stereotypes pertaining to gender, age, and race, imbuing seemingly neutral technological practices with hierarchical power relations of different social categories. This suggests what might be the specific threat from intersubjectivity: empathy. I conclude with a methodological postscript.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 487-507
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.