“Defining Mobile Television”

I just received word that my article “Defining Mobile Television: The Social Construction and Deconstruction of New and Old Media” has been published by the journal Popular Communication. The article is a companion to another piece that I shared as a work in progress on the blog, “The 800-Pound Gorillas in the Room: The Mobile Phone and the Future of Television,” which is set to appear in the next few months in Kelly Gates’ edited collection Media Studies Futures. Whereas “The 800-Pound Gorillas” was concerned mainly with the ongoing battles between the telephone and broadcasting industries over the future of television, “Defining Mobile Television” uses the case of mobile television to think about technological change (and convergence) in more theoretical terms. In dialogue with film historian Rick Altman and with scholarship on the social construction of technological systems, I propose the concepts of “social deconstruction” and “disintegration mechanisms” as means of accounting for the mid- and late-life “identity crises” that the mobile phone and television have experienced over the last two decades. I’ve attached a brief excerpt below. For the full article check out Popular Communication vol. 10 no. 4 (2012).

 

Reception problems: Postwar television and the amateur experimenter

Casey McCormick asked me to post this so that she could use it in a class. Thanks for motivating me to share, Casey!

Reception Problems: Postwar Television and the Amateur Experimenter

The figure of the amateur experimenter performs a well-defined historiographic function within revisionist histories of twentieth century media technologies. Consider the teenage wireless operator, the short wave ham, the hi-fi audiophile, and the computer hacker: historians have highlighted the activities of these and other amateurs to complicate and contest the distinctions that top-down, single-ledger histories often draw between the so-called producers and consumers of media technologies. What of television’s amateur experimenters? A handful of scholars have discussed hobbyists’ dalliances with mechanical television in the 1920s and 1930s (Sewell, 2012; Boddy, 2004), but few have traced these activities beyond the medium’s post-World War II relaunch. Exceptions exist: for instance, Lisa Parks (2000) has traced the circulation of technical knowledge about television amongst consumers and professional repairmen during the 1940s and 50s. But for the most part historians have relegated the amateur experimenter to the television’s pre-war “pre-history,” overlooking the various forms of experimentation that viewers and would-be viewers engaged in the decades following the medium’s commercialization. These experiments are the subject of this paper. In what follows I offer a perspective on 1950s television that stresses the mutability of its technologies and the resourcefulness of its viewers, and that furthermore is sensitive to the hyper-local variations that characterized the medium’s early reception practices.
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VIDEO: “Girls, ex-vets, older men are keeping the television field alive”

Toward the end of World War II, the Army Information Branch partnered with its counterparts in the Air Force and Navy to produce a series of instructional shorts that previewed various aspects of the post-war world for members of the armed forces. Tellingly, the first film in the series looked at television, and highlighted the TV-related job opportunities that awaited servicemen after they received their “permanent furloughs.” Tomorrow Television (1945) is exemplary of the corporate liberal futurism that so thoroughly shaped television’s cultural meanings (and, by extension, influenced key decisions about its technical standards, content, and regulation) in the period “before TV.” Within such forecasts, television both belonged to the future and was key to that future’s arrival. Or, more accurately, the immediate resumption of set manufacturing and commercial broadcasting were key to that future’s arrival. (As an aside, it bears noting that the television of the post-war future envisioned by the film operated in accordance with the pre-war technical standards. In the film, and in many other contexts during the mid-1940s, television figured as an icon of the technological marvels born of wartime research that consumers could look forward to enjoying after the war’s conclusion. And yet, technically speaking, by the time manufacturing of sets resumed in 1946, this standard was already obsolete…)

Check out Tomorrow Television. My personal highlights: the NBC and WNBT station idents that appear around the five minute mark; David Sarnoff’s horribly uncomfortable delivery at around 7:38.

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