Telephones were once new, and when they were, they were magical. Not in that Jobsian way of being magical, but like, actually a bit touched by the supernatural.
"All previous generations, as the result of invariable experience, linked together as an obvious axiom that when the ear could hear the eye must be able to see the speaker. That assumption has been broken down by the telephone,” wrote Fremont Rider in his impressively contrarian book, Are the Dead Alive? in 1909.
What happened when that link between sight and sound broke down is the subject of Devin McKinney's recent story on HiLoBrow.
And what happened was that the telephone became implicated in a realm of research that straddled the line between the occult (hearing voices in the ether) and the technological as researchers built tools to let you transmit your voice through space and time.
It's not that crazy. Think about it: if invisible electromagnetic waves could be used to transmit radio broadcasts, if copper wires could carry your mother's voice across an ocean, if grooves in a platter could play—no, be—music... Then what else was possible? What else couldn't we see with our lowly unaided perception?
"The key to the telephone as miracle, metaphor, and medium for ghosts lay in ... the 'numerous slits' in reality and rationalism that allow the mundane to commingle with the mystical, and mortal matter to be infused with a spirit which lures our fancy with the prospect of something eternal," McKinney continues.