From Marlinspike to Mobile Media: An Archeology of the Gadget

Thursday Lecture Series

Gadgets like smartphones and GPS receivers, say the pundits, are fundamentally altering the ways we read, communicate, and even think. In his talk, Wythoff attempted to throw such claims into relief with a cultural history of these seemingly small, everyday tools. The word “gadget” refers to both concrete objects and indeterminate tools that have been forgotten, rigged up on the fly, or not yet invented. Spanning a range of literary, social, and technical histories, a genealogy of these alternately functional and fictional devices from their origins in mid-nineteenth-century nautical jargon to their current association with mobile media reveals a distinct evolution in the imaginative space between tools and their users. Focusing on the nascent tinkerer and genre fiction communities of early twentieth century America, Wythoff argued that fictions play a constitutive role in the emergence of new media as socially shared systems of communication and expression.