12:30 - 13:00
A voice of one's own – Lessons on technology from Bell's telephone operators

Short thesis

This talk will show what we can learn from the early 20th century case of Bell's telephone operators about today's technology, Internet, protests and digital rights.


Women’s influence on media technologies development has hardly been recognized in historical accounts. This presentation will show that women, specifically Bell Telephone’s telephone switchboard operators in the first half of the 20th century, have inspired cybernetics and especially black-boxed automated machines. Transmission of information depended on their actions because they had to facilitate the switchboards, and therefore held a crucial position as part of the communication channel.

Through the development of various training programmes, Bell wanted to penetrate into the telephone operators’ bodies and minds, inside and outside work. But contrary to their designs, the telephone operators revolted, protested and organised themselves in various ways to fight for their rights.

In order to look to the future of technology, and specifically the Internet, this talk will explore what we can learn from the past experience of the telephone operators about big media monopolies, media use, digital rights, unionization and protests.