Colloquium | Grant Wythoff
From Marlinspike to Mobile Media: An Archaeology of the Gadget
Gadgets like smartphones and GPS receivers, say the pundits, are fundamentally altering the ways we read, communicate, and even think. In my talk, I attempt 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, I argue that fictions play a constitutive role in the emergence of new media as socially shared systems of communication and expression.
Grant Wythoff is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities and a Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received his PhD in English from Princeton University, where he served on the steering committee of the Digital Humanities Initiative and as project manager of the Princeton Prosody Archive. His fields of expertise include the history and theory of media technologies, twentieth century American literature, and science fiction. He is currently at work on two book projects: a cultural history of that alternately functional and fictional device, the gadget, and a critical edition of Hugo Gernsback's writings on media, tinkering, and science fiction. Grant has published work in Grey Room, Wi: Journal of Mobile Media, and In Media Res.