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America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 Paperback – March 22, 1994

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 22, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520086473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520086470
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 8.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A warning to those who see technology as having clear and far-reaching consequences in American life: Don't use the telephone as an obvious example. From a user-centered view of technological dispersion, the author argues convincingly that the telephone reinforced social and cultural patterns rather than changed them. Most wealthy and middle-class Americans (and many farmers) adopted the new technology to their own ends prior to World War II--ends not necessarily anticipated or welcomed by industry leaders or technology forecasters. Well researched, with an excellent bibliography and fascinating endnotes, Fischer's study is likely to be a required purchase for comprehensive collections in sociology, business, and the history of technology. It is accessible, however, to a wider audience because of its readability.
- Ellen McDermott, NYNEX Corp. Lib., White Plains, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A convincing argument against blaming social disjuncture on any single modern invention." -- Sally S. Eckhoff, Voice Literary Supplement

"Delightful. . . . A thought-provoking, often entertaining book that makes it impossible to take the telephone for granted." -- The Milwaukee Journal

"This book is to be highly recommended for its pioneering approach to the social history of a technology and for its many revisionist conclusions about overworked concepts like modernity and the decline of community." -- Kenneth Lipartito,Journal of Social History

More About the Author

Claude S. Fischer is a Sociology Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He started at Berkeley in 1972 with an undergraduate degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Harvard. Most of his early research focused on the social psychology of urban life--how and why rural and urban experiences differ--and on social networks, both topics coming together in "To Dwell Among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City" (1982). In recent years, he has worked on American social history, beginning with a study of the early telephone's place in social life, "America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940" (1992). Along the way, Fischer has worked on other topics, including writing a book on inequality with five Berkeley colleagues, "Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth"(1996). Fischer was also the founding editor of "Contexts," the American Sociological Association's magazine for the general reader, and its executive editor through 2004.

In 2006, Fischer co-authored a social historical book with Michael Hout, "Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years" (Russell Sage), which describes the shrinking of old divisions and the widening of new ones among Americans over the twentieth century. In 2010, he published "Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character" (University of Chicago Press), which analyzes social and cultural change since the colonial era. And in 2011, he published "Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970" (Russell Sage), a study, using compilations of survey data, of whether and how Americans' personal ties have changed in the last generation.

Among his awards and honors, Fischer was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Fischer has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in urban sociology, research methods, personality and social structure, and American society, and seminars on topics ranging from professional writing to the sociology of consumption.

1972 Ph.D., Sociology, Harvard University 1970
M.A., Sociology, Harvard University
1968 B.A., Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Isaacs on July 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
America Calling is, as its subtitle says, a social history of the adoption of the telephone from its invention in the 1870s until the 1940s, when it had become widely, but not universally used in the U.S. It is a sociological account of the attitudes held by the people who sold the telephone as much as those who used it. It contrasts the adoption of the phone with that of the automobile, which was introduced during about the same time period and was adopted more quickly. It uses a wide and creative set of data, including statistics of telephone use, telephone company reports, local newspaper stories, letters written at the time, interviews with people who grew up before telephones were commonplace, newspaper advertisements (noting when telephone numbers were printed as part of an ad), and even song lyrics of the time. After giving a national view of telephone adoption, Fischer fills out the story with a more detailed study of three towns in the San Francisco area; one mostly blue collar, one mixed, and one white collar.
Some of the more interesting findings in the book include:
- Farmers were among those most interested in using the phone and were willing to pay more for service, and yet AT&T was slow to recognize their need or the profit potential. AT&T did tended not to market to them, or to be willing to extend lines out to rural communities. - There was a brief period of competition, before the government sanctioned the AT&T monopoly, which greatly increased the use of the phone and reduced the costs. - It was not a trivial task to sell telephones to people. The phone company worked hard to contrive situations when a phone might be useful. Most people (especially in cities) had a way to send messages, so it was seen as a luxury.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Nalini P Kotamraju on September 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
By using the telephone as a case study, Fischer examines the role of technology as an instrument in modern life. The first chapter provides a terrific overview of the academic literature on technology, though given the time span covered by the book, it does not address the Internet. The book is also unusual in that it actually relies on data when making claims about the telephone and the world that emerged around it.
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