Overload: Switchboard Automation and the Disability History of 0s and 1s
a Performing Arts Department Colloquium
This talk considers the early history of digital labor and automation through a focus on the telephone switchboard. Labor historians suggest that operator management issues as much as technical innovation drove switchboard automation after 1913, when the Bell Telephone System consolidated its power as a legally sanctioned monopoly. Thinking alongside Frantz Fanon’s mid-century insights about telephone operators, surveillance capitalism, and overwork, this talk will highlight workers’ compensation for “disability” in New York and in the Bell System as an overlooked cost and management factor in early automation.
Mara Mills is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Mills works at the intersection of sound studies and disability studies. More details about her research, grants, and awards can be found at maramills.org.
This colloquium is free and open to the public.