Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Amateurs do matter in technology"

I came across the work of Kristen Haring on the Smithsonian Lemelson Center's website. I think it's pretty good, and relevant to the typical subject matter found here.

"Amateurs matter in technology," asserts Kristen Haring. "Engineers and big business do not simply hand down innovations to the rest of us. Important technical ideas arise from weekend tinkering in basement workshops." Haring's dissertation-in-progress focuses on the work of these anonymous inventors in the field of amateur, or "ham," radio. While amateur radio enthusiasts embraced the image of great inventors struggling alone in workshops until the "eureka" moment arrived, most ham operators were, in fact, unconventional inventors. In contrast to the secrecy involved in the patent process, the culture of the hobby dictated sharing of knowledge; amateur radio inventors typically published their ideas in ham radio magazines.

Haring wrote a good article about amateur ham radio operators, the technology behind ham, and the ham radio culture. It looks like ham radio operators were the underground technologists of the 1930s. Here's an excerpt

Many radio listeners chose to build their own receivers, either to save money or to control the design. Even those who bought ready-made radio receivers faced tasks such as wiring in a battery and assembling an antenna from parts sold separately before they could spend evenings searching the dial for new stations. Radio handbooks of the 1910s and 1920s commonly referred to listeners as one type of radio amateurs.

The other kind of radio amateurs listened to and additionally sent out their own radio signals. From the beginning of the twentieth century, "transmitting amateurs" or "hams" experimented with two-way radio. Hobbyists in home workshops made technical improvements to radio communication that rivaled those made by the U.S. military.
Full article is here.

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