Touch of a Button: Long-Distance Transmission, Communication, and Control at World's Fairs
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, opening ceremonies of world's fairs were routinely consummated with a “touch of a button” on an ordinary telegraph. Yet in a striking shift from co-located events, United States presidents began triggering these ceremonies, as well as machines, fountains, and fairground lights, from a distance in early experiments with teleoperation. This article interrogates how media discourses framed and interpreted long-distance acts for readers, with particular emphasis on how these narratives imagined touch was transmitted—and communicated—through wires. It calls first for increased scholarly attention to the ways that bodies assert themselves through acts of long-distance connectivity, past and present; and second, for the creation of a robust cultural history that examines precursors to teleoperation and telepresence within the broader historiography of communication and media.
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