In Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures Shannon Mattern introduces the history of media infrastructures, challenging the prevailing view on media technologies being associated with electricity and industrialization. Mattern argues that communication, media technologies, and infrastructures have been crucially embedded in the formation of cities regardless of the period of time, and that the shaping of cities is not only affected by transportation or topology but also communication and it’s technologies (Mattern, 96–97). Looking back at times prior to electricity, telegraph, and other rather modern inventions, the notion of media infrastructures is being widened and is taking into account earlier technologies of writing, and also voice as a medium.
I cannot help, but notice that the density of keywords such as technology, infrastructure, governance, lead me into a trap of my own thinking, determining the primary association with this deep time as having a face of men and masculinity. And it seems that I am not alone – looking into technology and gender, Wajcman argues that the notion of technology being associated with men and manliness is deeply rooted in technology being associated with white male-dominated spheres of industrial machinery, military, mechanical and civil engineering since the late nineteenth century (Wajcman, 2009). Thus the deep time of media infrastructures and technologies, cannot help but be primarily associated with one gender of the humanity.
In the deep time of media, writing has been distinguished as being an integral urban political-economic infrastructure, driving trade, accountancy, and governance of the cities (Mattern, 101). But given the trap I have fallen into, it has to be taken into account that the political and economic spheres in historical perspective were dominated by men, and thus, there are some curious questions raising – what new knowledge can be gained when media infrastructures are viewed from a certain socio-historic perspective? Were women simply late-comers to the existing and ever-changing media technologies? What technologies and infrastructures did women create, alter, use, or maintain?
A quick answer would be of one obvious technology largely associated with women – the commercial typewriter. As simple as it seems, the typewriter did induce a social change (at least, in the USA) and became a symbol of independent women. Olwell states that even though female typewriters were largely an extension of a machine and received low wages, typewriting jobs were hailed as a route to economic independence and social dignity for masses of women (Olwell, 2003). She goes on to argue that the typewriter and the notion of an independent woman can also be linked to the women voter, and suffrage.
With no ready-made answers, I believe this is an important notion also in media archaeology – to view the issue at hand keeping in mind the socio-historical perspective and power relations.
1. Shannon Mattern, Deep Time of Media Infrastructure, in: Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks, Nicole Starosielski. University of Illinois Press: 2015, p.94–112.
2. Victoria Olwell, Typewriters and the Vote, https://doi.org/10.1086/375676
3. Judy Wajcman, Feminist theories of technology, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 143–152, https://doi.org/10.1093/cje/ben057