Hearing Aids and the Long History of Electronics Miniaturization

Mara Mills, of New York University, will present "Hearing Aids and the Long History of Electronics Miniaturization," in Stanford's Seminar on Science, Technology, and Society (STS). Jonathan Sterne, of McGill University, will serve as discussant.

Abstract:  Most histories of miniaturization begin with the transistor or the integrated circuit, crediting their increasingly small size and compact assembly with the rise of “personal electronics.” In this talk, I will argue that personal, portable communication devices—specifically, hearing aids—promoted miniaturization from the outset of the twentieth century. Electrical hearing aids were the principal site for the miniaturization of vacuum tubes and circuit assembly before World War II. After the war, hearing aids became the first consumer market for printed circuits, transistors, and integrated circuits. Due to the stigmatization of hearing loss, those who wore aids generally demanded small or invisible devices. Responses to this stigma were complex, however, and exceeded the domain of consumption; in addition to being early adopters, deaf and hard of hearing people were the inventors, retailers, and manufacturers of miniaturized electronics.

Mara Mills is a historian of science who works at the intersection of disability studies and media studies. Her research and teaching interests include telephone and mobile media studies, science and technology studies, and disability theory. Her current book project traces the historical relationship between the telephone system, deafness, and signal processing. Other projects include: a history of talking books, reading machines, and print disability; a collaborative study of the history and politics of "miniaturization" in the electronics industry. Mills has lectured widely, including recent talks at National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan); the Insitute of Media Archaeology at Kulturfabrik Hainburg (Austria); the VoxTAP Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley; the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa; and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of History.

Jonathan Sterne writes about sound and music, communication technologies old and new, contemporary cultural studies, and a range of other matters. He has two forthcoming books: MP3: The Meaning of a Format considers the mp3 as an historical, cultural and political phenomenon. The Sound Studies Reader collects and comments upon classic work on sound in the human sciences.

Monday, March 7, 2011. 12:00 PM.
Approximate duration of 1.5 hour(s).
Encina Hall, 2nd Floor East Conference Room (E207) (Map)
General Public
Conference / Symposium
Hosted by the Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS)
(650) 725-0123

Free and Open to the Public


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