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American Calling Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019


Technology plays a significant role towards enhancing civilization because everything in the modern world depends on it. Studies suggest that people are recognized with the type of the device they carry indicating the level of civilization of an individual. To many people, living without technology is compared to living without the basic need, such as food. Technology affects life in all perspectives including politically, socially and economically.

This implies that life in the modern society would not be the same without technology. In the food industry, technology has continued to redirect the health of individuals all over the world. In the modern society, the shelf life of food products is augmented by using improved technology. Time taken to make food in the modern society is less as compared to that spent on preparing meals in the traditional society.

In the communication industry, technology has made human beings dependant on gadgets. For instance, an individual would be sitting in one corner of the world and be able to communicate with the other individual in a different corner. The world is now viewed as a global community based on the effectiveness of technology, which is interdependent and highly connected.

For instance, by use of telephone technology, communication among people in remote areas has been made possible. This paper looks at the impacts of technology on human life. To do this successfully, a critical review of the book, “American Calling,” is conducted. The book talks about the technological role of the telephone in the American society.


In the first chapter, the author starts by questioning the real impact of technology on human life. He asks whether the telephone makes people active or lazy. Moreover, Fischer questions the role of the telephone in bringing the families together. In this regard, he observes that technology has both advantages and disadvantages.

Fischer confirms that inventions of previous technologies softened people. This implies that it made life easier because many things were produced with ease. The invention of the radio negatively affected people’s morality while electric lighting immobilized people because they would spend most of their time at home.

In 1926, the author observes that many people in the society were concerned with the rising rates of immorality owing to the technological inventions. By then, Americans were experiencing radical changes, particularly in terms of material changes. He further notes that material innovations are of value as compared to any other innovation because of its role in improving the living standards of individuals.

For instance, innovations in the food industry improved food distribution and sanitation, which lengthened human life. The inventions of cars enabled many Americans to travel to various places that they had never imagined in their lives (Fischer, 1992). This allowed them to interact with various individuals who had different experiences.

Regarding the question whether technology drives social change in the American society, the author has mixed reactions since he notes that technological changes influence the dynamics of all globalization theories. He is of the view that everything in the modern society depends mainly on technology.

For instance, food preservatives and artificial fabrics are the major necessities in the modern society. In his attempt to define technology, the author employs a dictionary explanation, which states that technology is an applied science. In this regard, he posits that technology brings about wealth hence it is not readily shared as compared to the findings of science. The author narrows down to discuss the aspects of technology regarding its application of devices and systems.

He introduces the role of technology in the life of an individual. Incidentally, he perceives technology in terms of material culture as it enables a person to realize his economic potential. Under the impact analysis section, the author presents various views regarding the impacts of technology. He employs Ogburn’s view that technology is a billiard-ball meaning that it originates from an external environment and affects the operations of society in a number of ways.

He gives an example by observing that the emergence of the automobile replaced the need for horses in the modern society. Through this, there is reduced need for feed-grain, which increases the land for planting edible grains. This reduces the costs of various food varieties (Fischer, 1992). By extension, this leads to the emergence of the feudal system of production.

In the second chapter, the author discusses the impacts of the telephone on the American society. He begins by appreciating the role of Alexander Graham, who invented the telephone. He goes on to argue that the telephone system developed rapidly between 1876 and 1940. His focus is on the consumers whose lives have changed greatly since they started using the phone.

He does not talk about the role of engineers, but rather the consumers. One of the impacts of the telephone on customers was that it affected the cost of communicating with other people because it reduced the prices. During the Second World War, consumers in the US and Canada had to subscribe for the telephone services from an expensive operator who had monopolized the sector.

Before the invention of the telephone technology, people had to pass information via the traditional means such as yelling or using the mail messenger. Telephone technology brought radical changes that shaped personal communication structures in society (Fischer, 1992). Even though businesspersons and the government still relied on letters, things changed because they also started using the telephone to pass urgent information.

In the third chapter, the author discusses the role of the telephone in educating the public. On the other hand, the introduction of the telephone in society was a complex idea that needed the intervention of the government and other state agencies. This was in the areas of capital and cost of education to disseminate the knowledge.

In the fourth chapter, Fischer shows how telephone technology spread nationally. It was the role of the government and other contracted organizations to spread telephone technology to other parts of the country. Chapter 5 is an extension of chapter four because it narrows down to a local level whereby he talks about the spread of telephone technology within the community.

The telephone affected the lives of many locals because families communicated easily with each other meaning that emergencies could be addressed faster as compared to the previous decades whereby a messenger had to be sent to the neighbour to inform them of an emergency.

He notes in the sixth chapter that telephone technology became a commonplace in the United States since everyone was using it. Each person was in need of the technology because of its role. In fact, few people would survive without the telephone in the house. This changed the relationships and interactions among members of society. In the seventh chapter, he suggests that the telephone had a local attachment, as it had become a basic need.

The telephone was used to fulfil various individual aspirations. In fact, he notes in chapter 8 that people made personal calls, which had personalized meanings. He concludes by noting in chapter nine that technology had a tremendous impact on the lives of individuals because it defined their lives. Without technology, it would be difficult for individuals to conduct their normal businesses (Fischer, 1992).

Critical Review

The works of Fischer are of benefit to any historian in at least three major ways. It should be remembered that his writings on the telephone are the most pervasive in the decade. His views were of essence mainly because he offerd an excellent summary of historiography, which were mainly utilized in studies touching on science and technology.

His works are strong because they offer a unique approach regarding the social aspects of communication technologies. This would be of great help to educators who are interested in developing and understanding technology in society. The research methods that he employed are also valid because they offer effective examples to both positivists and post-positivists scholars. In his analysis, the author started by analyzing the methods that are usually employed in historiography.

In his view, the methods that sociologists employ to report the impacts of modernity in the society have too many assumptions meaning that they cannot be relied upon. He observes that sociologists and economists have an assumption that socio-economic and psychological changes take place simultaneously, which is not always the case.

He opposes the idea of using technological determinism to construe the impacts of technology. On the other hand, he is against the view of those who believe that technological developments evolve independently out of social influence. To him, this view is too mechanical. From a soft determinist perspective, technology and social forces have a relationship, which is mutual. However, the author feels that this perspective is too imagery.

Fischer employed a model referred to as the user heuristic constructivist model. He developed this model after reviewing a number of theories carefully. He used this model to comprehend the impacts of the telephone on the American society. In fact, this approach is exceptional and distinct because it follows a clearly established method. He understood the impact of the telephone from a consumer’s perspective.

This is different from other analyses of technology, which view it in terms of technical artefact. In this view, the consumer has the power of deciding the type of technology that would dominate in society. The idea that the telephone is a space transcending technology makes Fischer’s analysis very strong mainly because it connects the telephone technology with other forms of technologies, which have continuously affected the human life.

For instance, he compares the effects of the telephone with those of the automobile, given the fact that their influence on human life is closely related. He makes use of statistical evidence to show that the telephone technology is similar to other forms of technologies. Finally, Fischer employs a mixed method research successfully. Other researchers are able to utilize his mixed method successfully by following his example.


Fischer, C. (1992). America calling: A social history of the telephone to 1940. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'American Calling'. 22 November.

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