Saturday, January 27, 2007

Audio Technologies Described in 1901 Edition of 1876 History Book

Below are some scans I made of some pages of an old book I have from 1901 by a historian named John Clark Ridpath. Here are online copies of a couple of his other books. These pages talk about advances in technology, such as the telephone and phonograph (note how those terms are capitalized). The next couple of (yet-unscanned) pages described the electric light and the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe I can scan them in later for another blog entry.

I appreciate some of the thoughts expressed on page 654:

Perhaps the most striking feature of the civilization of our times is exhibited in THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE, as illustrated in the thousand applications of discovery and invention to the wants of mankind. At no other age in the history of the world has the practial knowledge of nature's laws been so rapidly and widely diffused; and at no other epoch has the subjection of natural relations to the will of man been so wonderfully displayed. The old life of the human race is giving place to the new life, based on science, and energized by the knowledge that the conditions of man's environment are as benevolent as they are immutable.

I'm a huge audiobook fan (right now I'm listening to the unabridged audio of the new book Halsey's Typhoon, which is a detailed study of this incident) so I was interested to read this passage from pages 657-58:

Some experiments have already been made looking to the utilization of the Phonograph as a practical addition to the civilizing apparatus of our times. It has been proposed to stereotype the tin-foil record of what has been uttered in the mouth-piece, and thus to preserve in a permanent form the potency of vanished sounds. If this could be successfully and perfectly accomplished the invention of the Phonograph would, doubtless, take rank with the greatest of the age, and might possibly revolutonize the whole method of learning. It would seem, indeed, that nature has intended the ear, rather than the eye, as the organ of education. It seems to be against the everlasting fitness of things that the eyes of all mankind should be strained, weakened, permanently injured, in childhood with the unnatral tasks which are imposed upon that delicate organ. It would seem to be more in accordance with the nature and capacities of man and the general character of the external world to reserve the eye for the discernment and appreciation of beauty, and to impose upon the ear the tedious and hard tasks of education. The Phonograph makes it possible to read by the ear, instead of by the eye; and it is not beyond the range of probability that the book of the future, near or remote, will be written in phonographic plates and made to reveal its story to the waiting ear rather than through the medium of print to the enfeebled and tired eye of the reader.

And if you don't believe him about the occular challenges, just ask Henry Bemis. I'd hate for Ridpath to be disappointed by mass blogospheric eye strain, but I bet he'd love podcasts.

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