Wireless Technology Communication: Government Regulation and Social Impact
Schwartz R. (1997) a Social History of American technology: Chapter 12 Communications Technologies and social control (pp274-281., New York Oxford: Oxford University Press
I remember the first day when one of my teachers in elementary school told us that the inventor of the color television was a Mexican, Guillermo González Camarena, an engineer. He invented the Chromoscopic adapter for television equipment, this equipment was an early color television transmission system in 1941 (with a U.S. patent application: 2,296,019). As a Mexican, I have always been proud of this. However, in this class I have learned the difference between a new invention and a disruptive innovation. The color television was not a new invention; it was an innovation (disruptive technology). Guillermo González introduced the color television to Mexico, allowing Mexicans to have access to this technology. According to Clayton M. Christensen author of the Innovator’s Dilemma and the Innovator’s solution, he states that “An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.”
Disruptive technologies as well as new inventions have been part of us as a society. However, sometimes we don’t know how differentiate one from the other and we don’t really know how these new and disruptive technologies developed, we just use them. In the above example about the color television in Mexico, you can see the confusion I had between a disruptive and new technology and I’m sure that many Mexican still don’t know the difference. Understanding this concept is very important not only for knowledge purposes, but in order to be able to see what is next in terms of technology. Especially in the business area, in order to be able to spot new business opportunities, we have to be able to understand the past and the present in order to see what could be next. In addition, we have to be able to deal with the implications of the government control of these technologies.
On this week reading A social History of American Technology by Ruth Schwartz Cowan, I learned more about were the wireless technology came from. First with the introduction of the wireless telegraphy, then the wireless telephony followed by the wireless broadcasting radio and other electronic technologies like the television and the computer. In addition, I learned about the implications of the government’s control and usage over these technologies . These are a few examples that the author provides in this reading.
It begins in Europe:
• A Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell who demonstrated that light was an electromagnetic wave and predicted that similar waves of different frequencies could be generated by electric discharges.
• A German physicist, Heinrich Herts, created an apparatus to generate and measure high and low frequency and was able to send an electric signal from one place to another without wires.
• As a result, years later, Guglielmo Marconi who was studying electricity read about Hertz’s apparatus, so Marconi studied the possibility of sending these electric signals not only in a laboratory, but across mountaintops. After two years he succeeded, he sent messages in Morse code (long and short sparks) as far as two miles and made an apparatus that served as the antenna to receive the waves, accomplishing this way the “wireless telegraphy”.
• The British Navy bought wireless equipment to communicate with its imperial fleet.
• The United States wanted this wireless system to communicate with the new overseas possessions ( Philippines, Cube, Hawaii and Puerto Rico).
• Dozens of shipping companies were interested as well as the owners of news papers.
Wireless telephony was pioneered by the Americans:
• Few of the young men and women operators realized that the new breakthrough will be to be able to transmit real sounds like voices and music instead of dots and dashes (Morse code).
• One of these young men was Reginald Fessenden by 1900, he reasoned that if wireless telegraphy was possible then telephony wireless was also possible.
• By 1901, Fesseden designed anew receiver that converted high frequency waves that make diaphragms resonate in telephones. By 1906, he sends the first radio messages.
• Lee DeForest invented the audion based on Thomas Edison invention of the light bulb.
• DeForest believed that some day it will be a mass market for wireless telephonic receivers (he was able to see what could be next).
• People could use this radio receivers in their homes
• In 1912 the Titanic Sank and as a result many people using amateur or commercial transmitters started
communication with false good news and false bad news. As a result, journalists began demanding government regulation of wireless communication. The Radio Licensing Act of 1912 was created. Licenses were issued and amateurs could listen in on any frequency, but transmit on only a few.
• The United States government asserted its right to control the airwaves, in the name of public safety.
• In 1915, The Navy began takes control of transmitting station and frequency allocations and all amateurs were ordered off the air.
• Between 1914 and 1916, the government shifts its contracts to American firms and began to take control, in effect to nationalize, all of American Marconi’s transmitting and receiving stations.
• In 1919 with the approval of the president of the United Sates, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was born.
As you can see in the above examples of the wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony, disruptive technologies go beyond just trying to improve an existent technology; it also has social and government implications. People wanted to use the new technology, but the government had to regulate the usage of this technology. And as this week’s reading showed this usage/control was also continued with the radio, television and computer.
Wikipedia (2009). Guillermo Gonzalez Macarena. Retrieved February 1, 2009 from
Clayton Christensen (2009). Key Concepts. Retrieved February 1, 2009 from
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