He Mindful/She Mindless

In the chapter “Automatic Writing” in Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines, Lisa Gitelman employs a gender binary to describe technology and its operators. She points to the typewriter as an example of this gender duality, both in regards to its utilitarian operations and the spiritualist movement of the 19th century. She argues, “It is a symbiosis frequent in the literature of psychical research and revealing of its method…a mind/body (so frequently his/hers) dualism that implies the legitimacy of a paranormal phenomenon by touting its rigorously normal, objective description by assuredly impartial witnesses” (p. 199). Women acted as mediums through which men and technology could communicate – or rather, is the technology the medium through which men and women could communicate? Though this question is likely unanswerable, I would argue that women, not technology, became invisible. The type-written letter is evidence of the existence of a typewriter. The typist, whether man, woman, or spirit, remains nameless, faceless, invisible, unless they choose to sign their name.

The obscure film The Phantom of the Operator (http://artifactproductions.ca/fantome/en/film/images.htm for clips) presents the gendered history of telephones and their operators in a manner very similar to Gitelman. Through manipulative public relations campaigns such as “Voices with a Smile,” telephone companies succeeded in glamorizing the job of the telephone operator, yet their real motivation was suppressing the costs of production by employing women at very low wage rates. The voice of the operator, like the psychic medium, became a mystical object that connected men to their machines.

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