Article ID: CBB001201114

Privacy's Waste Products: Touch, Contagion and Public Telephone Design (2014)


Bound up in twin desires for privacy and intimacy, the telephone has a long, quarrelsome rapport with the sense of touch. Delving into the design of public telephony, primarily in the United States, between 1880 and 1910, this article plumbs how telephone booths evolved to address the tangible by-products of soundproofing spaces for privacy. Health officials and the calling public targeted booth designs as seedy and infective, unresponsive to the sweat, respiration and odours callers' bodies exuded. Seen as factors communicating diseases, these by-products turned telephony into a uniquely early `viral' technology, and technological touch into an involuntary, atmospheric and contaminating experience. As a corrective, US booths became wedded to air conditioning. The marriage secured public telephony as an individualized sensory space, and equated privacy with sanitation. This transformation integrated telephony into a larger design shift around the turn of the century towards tactile restraint, individuation, and hygiene, and reveals how health was designed into the very feel of early media artefacts.

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Authors & Contributors
Sánchez Miñana, Jesús
Almeida, Maria Antónia Pires de
Rogaski, Ruth
Wetton, Jenny
Fairchild, Amy L.
Bayer, Ronald
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Transactions - Newcomen Society for the Study of the History of Engineering and Technology
American Quarterly
Russian Review
Actes d’Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica
International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology
University of California Press
New York University Press
Duke University Press
McGill-Queen's University Press
University of Rochester Press
Public health
Telegraphs; telephones
Disease and diseases
Telephone industry
Technology and culture
Bell, Alexander Graham
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
17th century
United States
Great Britain
Manchester (England)

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