A Tale of Two Networks: The Bell Telephone System and the Meaning of “Information,” 1947-1968 – Information & Culture – article

A Tale of Two Networks: The Bell Telephone System and the Meaning of “Information,” 1947-1968

Emily Goodmann | Information & Culture

2019-10-22

This article explores a discursive debate that occurred during the mid-twentieth century among telephone users, institutional actors at Bell Telephone and American Telephone & Telegraph, and Bell Labs’ engineers regarding the meaning of the term “information.” Telephone subscribers’ use of telephone directory formats, so-called misuse of the information operator, and resistance to all-number calling clashed with telephone system engineers’ definitions of information. This article argues that the telephone system rather than computing technologies served as a primary technological site of negotiation wherein a nonexpert definition of “information” was conceived by the general public during the twentieth century.

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