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This Is Enlightenment$
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Clifford Siskin and William Warner

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226761473

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226761466.001.0001

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Modes and Codes

Modes and Codes

Samuel F. B. Morse and the Question of Electronic Writing

(p.120) Modes and Codes
This Is Enlightenment

Lisa Gitelman

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the complex mediations necessary to produce one of the most consequential events of the modern era: the invention of a new media technology. It tells the story of a chain of mediations, from F. B. Morse's first schemes for telegraphic writing and the several patents he registers and then defends, to the final decision of the Supreme Court. This story links successful implementation of the new medium with the notion of “delay”, which involves simplification and paring down. Thus, Morse's initial scheme, which is visual, writerly, print-heavy, and recording-capable, is transformed into a faster, aural, speech-like one, by the bodies of telegraph operators, who can take the written messages and translate them into clicks, which can then be heard and transcribed on the fly by the receiving operators. The analysis of the Morse telegraph suggests a feedback loop by which human bodies mediate the new technologies that they become mediated by.

Keywords:   mediations, new media technology, telegraph, telegraphic writing, feedback loop

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