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Serving a Wired World: London's Telecommunications Workers and the Making of an Information Capital (Berkeley Series in British Studies #17) (Hardcover)


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In the public imagination, Silicon Valley embodies the newest of the new—the cutting edge, the forefront of our social networks and our globally interconnected lives. But the pressures exerted on many of today’s communications tech workers mirror those of a much earlier generation of laborers in a very different space: the London workforce that helped launch and shape the massive telecommunications systems operating at the turn of the twentieth century. As the Victorian age ended, affluent Britons came to rely on information exchanged along telegraph and telephone wires for seamless communication: an efficient and impersonal mode of sharing thoughts, demands, and desires. This embrace of seemingly unmediated communication obscured the labor involved in the smooth operation of the network, much as our reliance on social media and app interfaces does today.

Serving a Wired World is a history of information service work embedded in the daily maintenance of liberal Britain and the status quo in the early years of the twentieth century. As Katie Hindmarch-Watson shows, the administrators and engineers who crafted these telecommunications systems created networks according to conventional gender perceptions and social hierarchies, modeling the operation of the networks on the dynamic between master and servant. Despite attempts to render telegraphists and telephone operators invisible, these workers were quite aware of their crucial role in modern life, and they posed creative challenges to their marginalized status—from organizing labor strikes to participating in deviant sexual exchanges. In unexpected ways, these workers turned a flatly neutral telecommunications network into a revolutionary one, challenging the status quo in ways familiar today.


About the Author

Katie Hindmarch-Watson is Assistant Professor of Modern British History at Johns Hopkins University.

Praise For…

"Serving a Wired World juxtaposes in colorful ways the varied tensions of the period: between administrators and workers, privacy and mediation, female and male employees, good boys and bad ones, order and rebellion. . . . Today’s information workers may recognize some of these tensions, particularly in how library labor is both integral and invisibilized in library operations and how administrative decisions inform public discourse on the labor of information."
— College & Research Libraries
Product Details
ISBN: 9780520344730
ISBN-10: 0520344731
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
Pages: 288
Language: English
Series: Berkeley Series in British Studies