Taming Noisy Women: Bell Telephone's female switchboard operators as a noise source

Elinor Carmi

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This paper focuses on women who worked at Bell Telephone Company in the USA during 1930s and 1940s as telephone operators, and the training programmes they went through. 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. Thus, Bell felt they should tune their ‘bad’ behaviour which embodied noise in their systems. In order to maintain equilibrium, Bell enmeshed Michel Foucault’s disciplinary and biopower forms of governmentality and developed a hybrid form. This combination was seen in their flagship training programme, A Design for Living, where Bell penetrated operators’ bodies and minds, inside and outside work. When the operators revolted, Bell realised power should be exercised through automated dial machines. This would then become an inspiration for cybernetics who aimed to control communication systems that constructed information’s correct behaviour, and consequently users.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-327
Number of pages15
JournalMedia History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2015

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