The basic telephone has become a taken-for-granted part of our everyday life, but when it first appeared, its role was far from clear. This entry charts that early history and subsequent development, before outlining some of key social research relating to this technology. In doing so it becomes clear that it is important to look beyond the narrow details of the “use” of a technology to appreciate how the experience of telephony, its differentiated and evolving consumption, relates to wider social practices and relationships.

Telephony provides an example of how difficult it is to point to a first “inventor” of a new technology given that several researchers were working in this field. Some of these researchers were trying to improve telegraphy, by enabling it to carry ...

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