My essay, "Intimate Threats and Intersubjective Users: Telephone Training Films, 1927-1964" has been accepted for a special sound studies issue of American Quarterly, the journal of the American Studies Association.
The essay explores a historic role of a sound technology, telephony, in assessments of desirable people, especially people as its ideal and sanctioned user-consumers, as conveyed by short instructional films from 1927-1964. I examine how this new sound technology and sonic experience was represented visually and aurally, ultimately arguing that the essence of telephony’s sonic experience—intimate intersubjectivity—was largely missing from these representations. Intended to instruct on usage of telephony, they in many ways avoid or at least fail to express the very nature of this communication system—a technology about intimate, interpersonal connection through mediated sound. Across these films, opportunities to convey or suggest the intimate intersubjectivity that is at the heart of telephonic experience seem frequently missed. In examining these films as part of larger discourse on constituting ideal technological usership, I describe how telephone training films harness social stereotypes, such as gender, age, and race, suggesting what the specific threats from intersubjectivity might be, namely, empathy. A postscript suggests unique methodological concerns related to employing sound studies in technology scholarship.