How to use a dial telephone

A reposting of the viral video “The Medieval Helpdesk” (a comical look at the new technology of the book during the middle ages) has a description that frames the point of the video as follows:

This video makes fun of modern newbie computer users by illustrating – in a way fully understandable to them – how silly some of their questions are by creating a similar problem in the Middle Ages.

According to this description, the video was intended to ridicule “newbie computer users” for their obvious incompetence. While an easy framing of the video, I’m not so sure that such a reductive reading even begins to capture the myriad reasons why this video resonates with so many people in our own particular moment. I think an alternative way to think about this video would be to view it through a less anachronistic historical lens. Imagine a moment wherein a general conceptual shift was necessary in order to adapt to new ways of knowing, communicating, and socializing with one another. Take, for example, a quite similar example to the “Medieval Helpdesk” video that is not at all sarcastic, titled “How to use a dial telephone” which is a silent film from 1927 that offers a quick tutorial for, well, dialing a telephone. Strange, right, how could there ever have been a need for a seven minute tutorial for something so simple, intuitive, and natural as dialing a telephone? I don’t know, might they be saying the same thing about RSS sometime soon?

So, lest we take what we are doing for granted, take a look at this “screencast” from 1927. Before we explain away our moment as some ahistorical phenomenon in relationship to new and emerging technologies, it might be useful to seriously consider the video below as an earnest and important document that directly informs the work so many of us are doing in a similar moment today.

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4 Responses to How to use a dial telephone

  1. Andy Rush says:

    That’s fantastic! Really puts our training in perspective. There are lots of people who ARE experiencing web 2.0 in the same way.

  2. Pingback: University Update - YouTube - How to use a dial telephone

  3. Terry says:

    “Note: Do not dial the hyphen” Excellent.
    I’ve got to tell you, it would have been a relief to me to have a detailed video showing me exactly how to, for example, set up my WP blog on a blue host site. In fact, I would love one now on how to manage a Blue Host site! I spend so much time in trial and error.

    And, btw, I did have to recently teach my teenage son how to dial a phone when we came up on an antique with one. To my surprise, he was puzzled, seeing the number, pressing the number through the hole, seeing nothing happened. The concept of pulling that whole dial around with your finger to a magic stopping point was strange to him. And of course it was–he is a digital kid, waiting for the musical tones.
    I also think of the first time a very smart lawyer I know was learning how to use a mouse. He picked it up and pointed it at the screen to click and then said “mine’s not working!” Since he knew already how to use a remote control, his actions were logical, right?

    All of which brings up the important question: is there such a thing as “intuitive” when it comes to new technologies? I think “intuitive” depends on a system you have already learned, and how the new system mirrors or doesn’t. Is “intuitive” a moving target?

  4. jimgroom says:

    @Andy -was thinking of you when I posted this one, you know that right?

    @Terry -I couldn’t agree with you more, the idea of something being intuitive is always framed by the systems within which we operate. That is why this film is somewhat jarring, in fact. So many of the effects when illustrating how to dial are a kind of visual rhetoric that I have learned, through a long history of working through visual media, to demonstrate a point effectively. I felt like this could just as well have been a tutorial for WordPress or MediaWiki. Strange convergence going on -how much does the apparatus we often train to do our bidding simultaneously train us?

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