- Taschenbuch: 368 Seiten
- Verlag: Mariner Books; Auflage: 1 (18. April 2005)
- Sprache: Englisch
- ISBN-10: 0156032449
- ISBN-13: 978-0156032445
- Größe und/oder Gewicht: 13,3 x 2,3 x 20,3 cm
- Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: Schreiben Sie die erste Bewertung
- Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 1.003.265 in Fremdsprachige Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Fremdsprachige Bücher)
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Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety from the Telegraph to the X-ray (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 18. April 2005
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The modern world imagines that the invention of electricity was greeted with great enthusiasm. But in 1879 Americans reacted to the advent of electrification with suspicion and fear. Forty years after Thomas Edison invented the incandescent bulb, only 20 percent of American families had wired their homes. Meanwhile, electrotherapy emerged as a popular medical treatment for everything from depression to digestive problems. Why did Americans welcome electricity into their bodies even as they kept it from their homes? And what does their reaction to technological innovation then have to teach us about our reaction to it today? In Dark Light, Linda Simon offers the first cultural history that delves into those questions, using newspapers, novels, and other primary sources. Tracing fifty years of technological transformation, from Morse's invention of the telegraph to Roentgen's discovery of X-rays, she has created a revealing portrait of an anxious age.
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In part one, she introduces Samuel Morse, and the two main characters of her study, Thomas Edison (1847-1931), and George Beard (1839-1883), along with the telegraph, electric lighting, the phonograph, the telephone, electrotherapy and neurasthenia.
In part two, the focus is on electricity and health, electrotherapy, mesmerism, spiritualism's use of the notion of electricity as a means to bolster its claims, and the limits of science as a method of understanding human nature. Nikola Tesla is mentioned in order to introduce the debate Edison had with him (and later, George Westinghouse) on the value of Edison's direct current over Tesla's alternating current. William James, the subject of a previous book by the author, is quoted at length on why science is not the final answer. Part two ends with the assassination of President Garfield in 1881, the public debate about the assassin's sanity and therefore freedom of will (Beard asserted he was innocent because insane: under trial he was found guilty by jury and executed by hanging), and sets the stage for part three.
In part three, the electric chair is introduced. Hanging had come to seem too slow and uncertain, the guillotine was too bloody (and, besides, did the brain die, and thus self-awareness end, immediately upon the head's severance from the body?), lethal injection would create an unwelcome public association of death with the doctor's hypodermic needle, firing squads were too bloody and only fitting for the military and its well-trained marksman. So the electric chair became the method of execution in New York state, to go into effect the first of January, 1889. Edison saw the electric chair as a means to instill public fear, not in electricity, but in the high voltage generated by alternating current, as championed by his rivals George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. When the first execution was scheduled in 1889, Westinghouse fought against it because he didn't want AC electricity to be associated with death. The entire first chapter of part three is devoted to this topic.
Final topics of part three include the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair) with its focus on new technology; the question of technology's role in happiness and social equality as raised by writers such as Frank Baum, Mark Twain, Edward Bellamy, and Simon Newcomb; the 1896 discovery of x-rays by William Roentgen, followed by Edison's invention of the fluoroscope; the use of x-rays and the continued use of electrotherapy in health care; the rise of psychotherapy; and a quick reprise of anxiety in relation to technology and the place of science in our understanding of who were are.
Thirty years after Edison invented a successful lightbulb, only ten percent of American homes were wired. Edison could not conquer the public fear that "nature would extract retribution for harnessing its power." Oddly enough, though there was fear about household electricity, the healing force of electricity was quickly accepted. Electrotherapy seemed a better alternative than the nostrums or diets that doctors might prescribe. Thus physicians (and quacks) began manufacturing and recommending electric baths and teething rings and brushes, electrified corsets, and electrical probes for any body cavity to dispense the charge right where it was needed. The scientists often did not help their own cause. The famous disagreement between Edison and his former employee Nikola Tesla (and George Westinghouse, with whom Tesla came to work) over what kind of current would be safest could only fuel suspicion that if experts disagreed, there was no reason to accept the new technology as safe. The alarmists on both sides of the direct versus alternating current debate predicted terrible disasters if the other side had its way. (A physician at the time wisely said the arguments against electrification were the equivalents of those against illuminating gas or railroad trains a century before.) Edison cheerfully lent space and equipment for experiments on electrocuting animals by the alternating currents he opposed, and then practiced a bit of skullduggery to get New York to accept alternating current as the force for the new electric chair. He favored "to Westinghouse" as the new term for legal infliction of death by electricity.
Simon has drawn on forgotten fiction works, some by famous authors like L. Frank Baum and Edgar Allen Poe, to examine how people were accepting the new ideas about electricity. Mark Twain, in a futuristic mode, envisioned a "Phonograph for the application of stored Profanity". She concludes with the discovery of the x-ray, which like so many medical effects of the new technology was widely and eagerly accepted, and people were thrilled to get a peep at their own insides. Even so, other people saw this as a new menace against privacy, and one company sold X-ray-proof underwear. When people finally learned about radiation burns and sickness, many must have felt that the worries over the new forces had been justified. Simon has, with an amused eye, brought together plenty of stories of electrification to show how electrical technology affected society and increased the realms of anxiety before familiarity bred contentment.