Now that the Media Archaeology Lab is, incredibly for a humanities/media lab, turning 12 years old, and now that I’ve written on the lab in many different ways (how it embodies certain principles from media archaeology, intervenes in the divide between theory/practice, empowers students to reimagine the future, gives us all meaningful access to how and why the history of technology is written the way it is, etc.), lately I’ve been thinking that really, at the end of the day, I love the lab because it makes me – and makes people around the world – happy! Once again yesterday, in the midst of doing another Slow Networks experiment with libi striegl and finding ourselves cackling inexplicably, over and over again, I think another way of putting it is that the power of the MAL lies in how – even in the midst of an R1 institution that has very specific ideas about what constitutes intellectual rigor – it is unabashedly chock full of absolutely delightful things.
Smartphones may be astonishing in their processing powers, but have you ever thought “Ahh my iPhone is just so delightful!” The reason for this could simply be that many of us find deep satisfaction in connection – with humans, nonhuman animals, and with the larger material world. (I remember, for example, when I was very young I thought I was a cat; I also wanted to be the ditch that was across the street from my childhood home – after all, it was a lovely, green place full of water and flowers! I’ve also known people who similarly wanted to be blueberries or washcloths.) But in the western world of sleek devices that seek to be ever more light, magical, even barely perceptible, what exactly are we connecting with other than air and an aura of profound investment in profitability?
By contrast, yesterday we continued on from Slow Networks Experiment 5 and performed some impromptu experiments with a newly acquired Viking two-way phone line simulator and two analog telephones. Here is documentary proof of our delight at experiencing, for the first time in 20 years, the analog phones ringing:
January 30, 2021
Media Archaeology Lab
Viking DLE-200B Two-Way Phone line simulator
Three 6p2c cords
Two analog telephones
GE Telephone Answering System
We began by plugging the two-way phone line simulator into the wall outlet. We then plugged the 6p2c cord into the RJ11 jack on the phone line simulator; likewise we ran another cord into the second RJ11 jack. We picked up one phone and listened to the dial tone for 2-3 seconds, which then signaled to the phone line simulator to signal the second phone to begin ringing. The latter essentially functions like a very small telephone switchboard. We also set the phone simulator up with an answering machine which visitors could use while the MAL is closed. This required situating one phone outside the front door of the lab and the use of a third RJ11 cord with the answering machine situated between the phone line simulator and the telephone handset inside the lab.
The results were mostly delight at having the ability to have a tangible experience – a kind of re-enactment – of using an analog telephone. We also noted the sound quality was remarkably high. Further, while the manual states that the “line simulator produces two-way communication between standard telecom products such as modems, fax machines…and standard single line telephones” and that it can also “provide salespeople with a cost effective, easy to use method of conducting on site demonstrations,” it was odd to note on the reverse side of the manual that Viking also targets “prison applications” and “golf applications.” We were also disturbed to note the racialized representation of security personnel, visitors and prisoners, as well as coaches and golfers.