January 21, 2017
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Please post your questions and comments below about the readings from Nye and Pursell for this week .
I enjoyed the Nye reading for this week because he pointed out things that I usually wouldnt think of when thinking about electricities impact on individual people or a trend as a whole, such as architecture. it was interesting how electric lighting impacted the way homes were built because they didnt have to worry about airing out the gas smell in rooms that were closed off. Also the New York Daily Tribune article Nye talks about on page 249 shocked me. He talks about James Willis and how he lived along in a secluded area for 24 years and had 125 electrical connections going into his two room home. It just seems that he was so much more advanced than the majority of people on top of living in a secluded area. At the same time it showed the readers of the article that electricity could help protect their home as it did for Willis’.
I found the Pursell reading to be interesting. It’s a topic that has been discussed quite a bit on this discussion board already despite its awkward nature. The invention of the vibrator has an interesting history though. Originally it was advertised to cure crazy women then found its way through the years to be more mainstream. What was unsurprising to me though was that they did advertise the vibrator for medical reasons given the time period. The nature of taboo is way more abundant during that time period. I think that had the vibrator been marketed differently, a hugely negative backlash would have come. It is pretty entertaining to see the changes in society’s morals throughout the decades.
I found the Pursell reading to be the most…. interesting. The idea of the “social camouflage” was very reflective of the time period in which the vibrator was invented and advertised. When I usually think of technology I don’t think of inventions in the private sphere such as the vibrator but more of the ones that are widely advertised and used by everyone. On page 125 Maines discusses the advertising strategies for the vibrator and how they shared pages with issues of sex problems, handguns, and cures for alcoholism. This reminded me of the magazines today such as Cosmopolitan that dicuess the private sphere issues of society. However the vibrator was not always used for sexual pleasure but for medicinal reasons and to relax. This presented women with a new pathway for taking control over their bodies.
I think one reason the family does not eat dinner together is because we often notice that people are all over the house! I am pretty sure teenagers have always rebelled against mom and dad throughout the ages, but they were forced to hang out at the end of the day for “dinner time.” Now dinner time no longer exists. Now people make phone calls to their families to keep track to where people are now more spread out. In fact, every time new technology comes out we need to update what our version of modern is.
Elizabeth’s article stated a great point. Electricity has allowed families to become more spread out in homes. There was a commercial which came out just recently which featured a father cooking using an iPad. He then sends a message to the TV and to his daughter’s iPad upstairs which says its time for dinner. Not having to share a light source is really part of a larger movement, which we have discussed, of families spreading out across the country. Technology like the telegraph, then the telephone allowed people to keep in touch more often and quicker than letter writing. Radio and Television allowed a group of people over a vast area to hear and see the same messages, like advertisements. It gave people over a greater area a shared cultural identity.
The Pursell reading this week was perhaps the most intriguing one we have had yet this semester. Not because it was about sexual objects like vibrators, but about the notion of camouflage technologies. The idea of camouflaged technologies can go much further than just the use of sexual objects. One thing that would have made this argument stronger would have been testimonials of the women who actually used the devices. Though first hand accounts are hard to come by, it would have allowed the reader to know if women and their husbands actually believed vibrators were used for medical purposes. Also it would be an interesting conversation to talk about such devices that are camouflaged technology such as drug paraphernalia or computer software.
The Pursell reading did a wonderful job at showing the marketing strategies of products deemed socially/legally unacceptable. While she focuses heavily on the discrepancy between the use of vibrators and their advertised uses, the issue applies to many other technologies, including drugs, software, burglary tools. This concept of camouflage advertising is still relevant in today’s society. There are a number of social unacceptable techonologies that have a vast market. It only makes sense that because these products have a strong niche, they don’t need to explicitly state what they are for; word of mouth and people’s initution are enough. The prevalence to this class is the idea that some technologies are inheritantly understood, desperately wanted, but socially taboo and in disquise its purposes in vague wording or medical language, the product still gets out there without hurting anyone’s feelings.
I found the Nye reason interesting, because of the small section on electrified toys. The fact that electrified toys for children were perpetuating gender roles was fascinating. Even at an age where they are simply playing with toys, things like toy trains, a seemingly unisex toy, was fashioned specifically for boys. The manuals for such toys clearly stated “for boys” in their titles. Just an intersting observation on the grooming that took place with specific gender roles. It makes one wonder what other types of gender specific play these children were, or were not allowed to participate in.
I found the Pursell reading to be the more interesting of the two, if only from the perspective that it discusses the changing views towards taboo in society. This reading discussed what we seldom talk about: the private side of life. More specifically: it focuses on just how immoral some aspects of that side of life have been thought of, and how technology has influenced that side of life. The private side of life has always had more of an immoral stigma attached to it, and even more so with regard to women. This was the fault of the clergy. Then an invention such as the vibrator comes along, and has its true use hidden through a variety of “medical” reasoning (such as the fact that it cures crazy women). I always find it slightly surprising that people have always viewed things such as this as immoral, despite the proven fact that one cannot ignore such desires.
To be perfectly honest, I found the Pursell reading to be the most interesting. I can see that many of my classmates were uncomfortable with the reading or talking about the reading, and I think that that in itself is a huge reflection of Maines’s argument: because of its decidedly taboo nature, vibrators were often glossed over in advertisements and rarely talked about outside the sphere of medicine. I, on the other hand, found it surprisingly entertaining. Yes, it was somewhat awkward to read, but I enjoyed learning about an artifact of technology that is usually ignored. In a class where we usually learn about common artifacts, I thought that this was an entertaining, though informative, change in scope. Vibrators are a taboo, and as a result awkward, topic to talk about only because society has made them that way. The vibrator has its roots in medicine, which should relieve the awkwardness of the subject, yet quickly switched to a more personal use and, at the same time, the advertising was changed to be more obscure. It will definitely be an interesting discussion topic, but the fact is that you can’t dismiss a topic and not talk about it just because it is awkward, so I am actually looking forward to the discussion.
I enjoyed the Nye reading and her discussion on how electricity has changed our lives in more ways than we have realized. Her point of how electrictiy allowed our homes to be more open spaces is an interesing one and a point that is often lost among the other uses of electricity. Nye’s reading reminds me of the obvious and not so obvious impacts that technology play on changing our current ways of life.
The Pursell reading was fascinating to me. I’m sure even in our modern world, most of us felt squeamish about reading because in our society these are considered private topics. Although, the reality is that when vibrators were invented the selling point of them was purely medical and to “fix” those crazy women which seems absurd to me. It is not surprise though that this is how they were marketed. None of the inventions we have looked at were marketed on the concept of pleasure or fun. For example, washing machines were marketed to people in a way that showed how they can improve your quality of life but not that they were fun. That being said, it makes sense that marketers took the same approach with the vibrator and used practical, logical reasons to advertise the product. This is a tactic that we still have today. Our ads make us feel and think that we MUST buy this new item because it will change our lives- save time, make the perfect cake, etc. It is still all the same concept of advertisements that seem appeal to needs in our lives.
I must say, Rachel Maines handles her “electromechanical vibrator,” article with the upmost class. She made very wise word choices and descriptions, to say in the least. I always knew this method was a form of treatment for hysteria, but what surprised me most was that they made house calls. I also enjoyed reading about how it was marketed differently for men and women. Advertising aimed towards men claimed that it made their partners look better physically. The majority of advertising aimed towards women said that it helped improve their body internally. Although on page 125, the paragraph did state that it would help remove facial blemishes. Which Im not really sure how that would happen? I’m not sure if I really want to understand, but apparently that appealed to people back in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Pursell reading shed some light of other areas of technology that we either forget about or don’t want to talk about. It shows that even today, in a time where we share all of our information and personal life details freely on the internet, we don’t want to actively explore the private life side of history. Similar to what Nye writes about with the Victorian homes and everyone having their own space (men, women, children, visiters etc.), technology falls into those categories as well. However, the reason why there was camouflage marketing with vibrators is because the different areas of a market or technology are not as simple as room in a house. Other factors affect the technology in the sphere of women’s sexuality such as societal standards, which hush the topic all together. As we have seen in class, usually it is the technology that impacts the economy, military, society or culture, but in the case of the vibrator, despite it being a new electric device, American society (since the Paris Exposition had no problem with it) kept it behind closed doors.
The Nye reading was quite interesting. I always find it fascinating to read about how people of the day reacted to certain events and inventions. Modern appliances were always advertised as the greatest use of electricity for the average homeowner. As time passed, it became more and more common place. Nye referred to this average family as Mr. Modern Man and Mrs. Modern Woman along with their perfect children. The sad fact about it is that although that is what most advertisements, the perfect Ward and June Cleaver family is just a fabrication.
The Pursell reading was interesting but was it all together necessary?
I really enjoyed the Nye reading about electricity and the many ways that it has affected the way we live today. I especially liked the section on how electric lights changed the structure and function of houses. In class we have talked about electricity being used in appliances to make life easier, but I had never thought of electricity changing our houses from the Victorian style to the more open style that was popular in the 1930s and later. I loved to read about this impact of lighting because I had never thought about how much electricity has affected our lives more than just being our “servant” to help with household chores. Towards the end of this reading, the section on the electricity contributing to the break down of the family was really eye opening for me. The fact that electricity allowed families to become more spread out throughout the house because they didn’t have to share one candle or gas lamp was something that I had never thought of. I really liked this reading because it made me think out all of the other impacts that electricity has had on our housing and family structures today.
As for the Purcell reading…why? I am interested to see how this “technology” will relate to class topics and discussions.
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