Sunday, August 01, 2004

Dark Light

Here is an interesting review of a book about people's reactions to electricity. "Dark Light - Electricity and Anxiety From the Telegraph to the X-ray", by Linda Simon, is "fact an utterly idiosyncratic romp, a poetical humanist's inquiry, a chronicle not so much of gizmos and inventors but of their effects on the public imagination."

I had heard of Luigi Galvani's experiments applying electricity to frogs' legs to make them twitch, but the book speaks of another Italian's work with freshly guillotined human heads - by electrifying them, he could make them blink or grind their teeth. Ewwww. It made an impression on Mary Shelley too - she later wrote "Frankenstein".

In the early days people didn't know what to make of electricity, and even those like Edison had their moments - '"When Edison first heard his own phonograph talk back to him, he told a reporter he was 'actually frightened and for a moment dropped the crank he was turning,'" Simon writes'.

I think I'll have to have a look at this one. Maybe it'll provide some insight into contemporary reactions to the Internet.

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