Friedrich Kittler, “The City is a Medium”



It has become a commonplace in media studies to point out the visual similarities between cities and circuit boards. In “The City is a Medium,” Friedrich Kittler highlights a more conceptual link between urban infrastructures and information technologies.

According to Kittler, “a network made up of intersecting networks dissects and connects the city—in particular its fringes, peripheries, and tangents” (718). These networks can be communications infrastructures or energy infrastructures. In either case, they transmit forms of information and require a parallel control network to monitor them.

Kittler also sees networks in the architecture of cities—presumably, the glass, concrete, and stone style office buildings that reveal their contents to passersby. Yet, in a surprising analogy, he underscores the invisibility of infrastructures: to find your way out of a labyrinth, you don’t need to sketch the visible walls, but rather the invisible passages between the path and the doors. In a similar sense, one must extrapolate, you don’t need to sketch the nodes of networks, only the invisible pathways that connect these nodes.

Visualizing a network in this way creates a network “tree.” Operationalizing this process leads to the practice of putting mice into labyrinths, and subsequently, as Claude Shannon did, creating a mechanical mouse to navigate the labyrinth, an experiment that helped him optimize the telephone network in the practice of “routing” packages.

Lastly, networks were incorporated into mathematics (topology and graph theory) as early as 1770. For Kittler, this marks the beginning of modernity in the sense that “Euler’s proof” disregarded concrete topographic data about Königsberg in favor of abstracting to a system of coordinate points and connecting lines.

At several points in the essay, Kittler suggests that there is no “outside” to a network. Just as the content of any medium is another medium, the content of any network is another network, at least “in capitals, networks between cities overlap upon other networks between other cities” (720). This will be a running theme in studies of network infrastructures.


Brian Holmes, “Drifting through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure”

guide psychogeographique de paris

Brian Holmes’s “Drifting Through the Grid” is a manifesto for disobedience and spontaneity in an age of digital predictability. Updating the Situationist concept of “psychogeography,” Holmes adapts the idea of “drifting” around urban environments to “drifting through the grid” of contemporary media environments. “What would it really take to lose yourself in the abstract spaces of global circulation?” Holmes asks (18).

Holmes’ main rhetorical strategy is to polarize the “hyper-rationalist grid of Imperial infrastructure” with the Situationist practices of “unitary urbanism” and especially the “dérive,” a spontaneous journey through an urban landscape with the aim of producing a new aesthetic experience. Just as the Situationists “aimed to subvert the functionalist grids of modernist urban planning” (17), Holmes aims to subvert “Imperial infrastructures,” such as the Internet and the global positioning system, or “GPS” (21). With the term “Imperial infrastructures,” Holmes draws our attention to the expansion of these technologies from the military sector to the public sphere: “they are systems with strictly military origins, but which have been rapidly liberalized, so that broad sectors of civil society are integrated into their basic architecture. Everything depends on the liberalization” (ibid.). Basically, most people subject themselves to this grid as a form of security: you “target yourself for safety” (22).

For a way to combat these “Imperial infrastructures,” Holmes turns—as do many contemporary European media theorists—to alternative hacker projects and avant-garde artworks that exploit these infrastructures, including:

Ultimately, these projects and artworks represent a form of subverting the dominant ideology of “Imperial infrastructures.” In framing his critique of these infrastructure in terms of ideology, Holmes suggests a clear line of resistance. In spite of his insistence that the questions of social subversion and psychic deconditioning are wide open, unanswered, seemingly lost to our minds” (23), such a programmatic turn to the historical avant-garde might end up comprising the aims of playfulness and spontaneous discovery.


Holmes, Brian. “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure.” In Dataesthetics Reader: How to Do Things with Data, edited by Stephen Wright, 17-23. Zagreb: Grafički zavod Hrvatske, 2006.


As an aside, Holmes makes a surprising observation about the operations of synchronization that GPS depends on: “Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this satellite infrastructure is that in order for one’s location to be pinpointed, the clock in each personal receiver has to be exactly synchronized with the atomic clocks in orbit” (22).


Poetiken der Infrastruktur

I’m very much looking forward to the conference this Saturday on “Poetiken der Infrastruktur. Zum Unterbau medialer Kommunikation,” organized by Simon Ganahl, Arndt Niebisch, Martina Süess of the Mediologie@Wien group in cooperation with the Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst
. In preparation for the event, I’ll be posting some of my notes on select sources from network studies, in general, and wireless infrastructures, in particular.

Over the coming days, look for notes on these sources from the field of network studies:

And on these sources about wireless infrastructures:


Hans Traub, “Arbeitsrhythmus als Morsezeichen“ (1927)


For Hans Traub, the modern system of Morse code marches to the beat of an ancient drum. The phenomenon of communication (Nachrichten) arises from the primal urge to communicate (Mitteilungsdrang), which, in turn, forms the bonds of community (Gemeinschaft). Hence Traub‘s etymology of the word “message” (Nachricht) as “command” (Befehl) or “instruction” (Instruktion): “Die Nachricht war der Befehl zu handeln” (281).

For Traub, the idea of sending a message as issuing a command to act in society cuts across different periods in the history of technology. All that changes in the speed of communications.

Anticipating Marshall McLuhan’s examination of radio as “the tribal drum,“ Traub situates modern communications codes in a longer history of acoustic signals. His ethnography of drumming practices in Africa, Mexico, and New Zealand emphasizes the communicative aspects of communal drumming, a “code” that is in itself logical but which outsiders find difficult to decipher. Apparently, the Hamburger Kolonialinstitut in Africa recorded 95 African drum signals on gramophone records, and Reginald Hafelden (?) intercepted a “Trommeltelegramm“ that reported on the sinking of the Lusitania: “large ship by a white man downed, many white men drowned” (großes Schiff von weißem Mann gesunken, viele weiße Männer ertrunken, 282). What Traub finds most astonishing is that the drum signal that Hafelden intercepted was passed on among different tribes, all with different languages, and all that were currently at war with one another, making drum signals seem a form of universal language.

As the editors of Medientheorie 1888-1930 point out, Traub’s implicit reference text is the Karl Bücher’s Arbeit und Rhythmus (1897), which argues that primitive cultures are not “wild” but organized through principles of “rhythm.” In the Weimar Republic, the ideology of “Gemeinschaft” continued to draw on “rhythm” as an antidote to atomization and individualism. To recover a lost world of “joyous work” (fröhliche Arbeit), the duration and tempo of labor would have to be re-attuned to the organic rhythms of the human body, rather than to the arbitrary rhythms of the machine (see Michael Cowan, “The Heart Machine,” 228).

Ultimately, “work rhythms” are a form of “Morse code,” for Traub, only to the extent that “morse code” is itself a form of “drum signal.” This equation allows Traub to suggest that the mechanically-driven sounds of telegraphy may still provide a new “code” for the formation of new communities.


Hans Traub, „Arbeitsrhythmus als Morsezeichen,“ Tägliche Rundschau (May 21, 1927), reprinted in Medientheorie 1888-1930 – Texte und Kommentare, edited by Albert Kümmel and Petra Löffler (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2002): 281-84.


Wired Radio and the Telephone Newspaper

One of the most interesting ‘roads not taken’ in the history of the radio is surely that of “wired wireless.” In America, the radio could have gone the path of the telephone and become a wired network that directly connected transmitters to receivers through various operations of switching. In fact, there were several analogous attempts in Europe to create a telephone newspaper, most famously, the Telefon Hirmondó in Budapest.

Even though wired wireless couldn’t cover the same broadcast area as wireless radio, telegraphy, or telephony, it has several advantages of wireless technology. As Randall Patnode argues, wired wireless appeared to solve three of the main problems in early wireless transmissions:

  1. Wires would reduce interference caused by atmospheric disturbances.
  2. Wires would eliminate interference caused by neighboring stations and prevent any eavesdropping on transmissions.
  3. Wires would solve the financial problem of who would pay for broadcasting. Wired radio would’ve allowed for the creation of a subscription-based service, and if content distributors could collect payments directly from listeners (as in the European model for financing national broadcasting), then there would be no need for on-the-air advertising to finance broadcasts.

Or at least those were the claims made by early proponents of the new technology. Nevertheless, due to patent disputes and questionable business practices, wired radio never really took off….

Squier’s patent application for multiplex telegraphy and telephony (from George Owen Squier, Multiplex Telephony And Telegraphy By Means Of Electric Waves Guided By Wires (1919), p. 68).

Significantly, wired radio and the telephone newspaper were both offshoots of advances in the field of “multiplexing,” the ability to transmit multiple messages in a single information channel. The Hungarian inventor Tivadar Puskás‘s (1844–1893) introduction of the multiplex switchboard in 1887 slightly predated the American inventor George Owen Squier‘s (1865–1934; pronounced “Square”) experiments with multiplex telephony and telegraphy.

All of this seems to be a subset of the case, “rock music as a misuse of a military device,” as Friedrich Kittler put it. But it seems like more work could be done from a media studies perspective on the parallels between wired radio and telephone newspaper, each of which usually gets discussed in its own terms.


Thomas Steinfeld’s presentation on the history of muzak at the IFK conference “Auf der Tonspur” reminded me of this interesting “road not taken” in the history of wireless. There’s an excellent article by Randall Patnode on the American history of wired radio called “Path Not Taken: Wired Wireless and Broadcasting in the 1920s.” There are also a couple of posts on “wired radio” over at the Modern Mechanix blog.


Logos: Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth


I’ve been thinking recently about the differences between the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth logos, especially in relation to the more universal symbol for wireless connections.

Both the Wi-Fi logo and the Bluetooth logo are trademarks that are supposed to stand in for international standards. (Of course the “fidelity” of “Wi-Fi”—coined in analogy to “Hi-Fi” (High Fidelity)—is largely nonsense, but it gives a sense of how the brand is a sign of quality.) Even more significantly, both make use of premodern mythology, specifically, in terms of uniting conflicting forces.

The Bluetooth logo is apparently a “bind rune” for Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson (i.e., it’s his initials ᚼ (Hagall) + ᛒ (Bjarkan)), the King who unified Denmark and Norway, just like the technology is supposed to unify protocols for computers and cell phones.

As Adrian Mackenzie points out in his close reading of the Wi-Fi logo in Wirelessness (2-5), the Wi-Fi logo evokes the Taoist yin-yang symbol. In Mackenzie’s reading, the lowercase i “defines the space around ‘Wi-Fi’,” just as “wireless networks very much concern the interval between people, or the space around “I.”

Still, neither of the logos seems to represent the function or medium of wireless transmissions as does the general symbol for wireless connections.


I read the symbol for wireless connectivity as a throwback to the most common symbol for broadcasting and for electromagnetic waves—concentric circles radiating out from a single point, as if a stone had been dropped into water. Making a wireless connection, the symbol (somewhat misleadingly) suggests, is like shooting a ray-gun, broadcasting one’s voice with a megaphone, or even throwing a stone into a pond.

But I still wonder where that iconography of electromagnetic waves itself comes from. Why are wireless transmissions usually represented in terms of concentric circles radiating out from a single point? Is it just the general idea of “waves”? Some specific experiment in physics? Or most likely, the representation of signal range on maps of national broadcasters?


The Wireless Century, by Robert Sloss

Here’s my translation of Robert Sloss’s “Das drahtlose Jahrhundert,” from Die Welt in hundert Jahren, pp. 27-48.

The Wireless Century
by Robert Sloss
translated by Erik Born

The Albatross had been flying quietly and safely over the ice fields for more than 48 hours, when the motor suddenly stopped and woke the captain from a deep slumber.

“Hey, Kettner, what’s going on,” he called, stepping out of his cabin onto deck, to the lieutenant.

“The power’s gone,” came the answer. “But I just plugged in the backup battery, and there’s nothing more to say. You can see for yourself that it’s working.”

And, indeed, the Albatross flew off on its course really wonderfully.

“No message from the ship?” asked the captain, proceeding to the helm, and, just as he asked, there came a convulsive flash like lightning and a metal crackle from the telephone apparatus at his feet. He picked up the combination receiver-transmitter at once and secured it to his head.

“The ship’s talking with us,” he said. “The generator isn’t working.”

“How long can the damage last, then?” asked the lieutenant, and you could tell how much he took the flying ship’s misfortune to heart.

“They can’t tell,” was the answer from the captain, still listening to the telephone, “but in any case, they won’t be able to provide us with any more power in the foreseeable future.”

“Then it would be better to land,” the lieutenant suggest, “and save up our batteries for any possible scenario.”

And as the captain nodded in agreement, he turned the airplane at once toward a sheet of ice about a mile away to the South. Here the machine was brought to a smooth landing, moored and anchored securely by both men.

“Yup,” the captain said, noticeably depressed by the incident. “It’s what I feared. In 1918, Steinmetz was only able to search the North Pole discovered by Cook because it was possible for him to turn off his generators on the Spitsbergen. We, on the other hand, will have to be content with a single one, and for that matter, we only have it on one ship. I know, Kettner, I know what you want to say. I know that the South Pole is in such an unfortunate place that there’s no mainland near enough to be able to operate securely. Our handicap consists precisely in that, since Steinmetz was always able to get enough power from the colossal stream of energy for one or the other of his generators. We, on the other hand…”

“We won’t let this accident discourage us, captain,” said the lieutenant. “Just think of how much control we have over the direction and power of electricity, and how much wireless power Steinmetz lost at the time. No, no, it’s admittedly a pity that we only have one generator, but I’m certain that we’ll obtain just as much power from our ship from Melbourne as his did from Niagara.”

“You might be right,” said the captain, “but it’s still a hell of a story. Besides, we can at least determine where we are, and you, Kettner, just see to it that you light a little fire under the people, they need to hurry, for, I’ll be damned if the journey is interrupted this time and we don’t get to the pole.”

And while Lieutenant Kettner switched on the receiver, the captain went back to his cabin. But the lieutenant was still maintaining his connection, when the captain, sextant in hand, rushed up to him breathlessly.

“Kettner! Buddy! Man! Do you know where we are? Much closer to the pole than Steinmetz was to the North Pole when he set up the last camp from which he then undertook that prosperous flight. And do you know what that means?…That we can reach our destination in three hours. That we will reach the South Pole even if the ship leaves us hanging, because our batteries have to be enough.”

“May I provide the ship with that information?” asked the lieutenant, who of course shared his superior’s enthusiasm.

“Yes, dear Kettner, do so.”

On the ship, the news naturally stirred up loud cheers.

“They’re going wild,” said the lieutenant. “They congratulate you on the terrific success. They’re asking whether they’re allowed to pass the news on further. They assure you that they’ll do everything to put the machine in operation again.” And suddenly he grinned, “Conners from the International News Agency wants to put the news in the morning papers in London and the evening papers in New York. But he’d really like an interview with you. Is that okay?”

The captain laughed. “That’s one enterprising fellow,” he said. “Say that I’ll gladly be available for him later on. Is there anything else? Hasn’t my wife asked about me?”

Kettner relayed the question to the ship that lay hard on the ice barriers of Mount Erebos, and the answer:

“No. But as soon as she calls, somebody will let you know.”

“Good. So then let’s eat something and then make ourselves comfortable and sleep. We’ll need our powers yet.”

And with these words, the captain was already proceeding to the fireproof cabin, and soon both researchers were busy at work preparing their meal on the electric hot plate, and when their coffee was steaming and their pipes were stuffed and set on fire, there came over both them that cozy mood in which you talk little and yet in being silent say so much.

Suddenly, however, the captain lay the pipe aside. “Kettner,” he said, “I have an idea. What would you think about starting up all our batteries and trying to connect ourselves with the world through the telephone using the wireless station in the vicinity. That would really be something for the world to talk about. Here, not a hundred miles from the South Pole and…yes, let’s try. How late is it?”

“10:27 local time.”

“Good. We’re approximately at the 180th Meridian. So it’s about 10:30 at night in London and 6:30 in Bermuda. She’s at home. Kettner, please connect me to my wife.”


Kettner connected the half-dozen light, though immensely powerful, battery cells together, made the necessary movements with his hand, pushed the button down, and the general call signal went out into the ether. The lieutenant listened carefully but no answer came; then suddenly he smiled: “Okay, now I’ve got her; the Bermuda Station answered. Yes…with Frau Captain Kingsley…that’s right.”

A bolt flashed and a strange drone was heard.

“The cold influenced the tone a little bit,” he said, “the apparatus has the sniffles. Okay…we’ll correct that right away…yes…that’s right…please, captain, your wife is on the apparatus.”

The captain immediately put down the apparatus for listening and speaking, and he switched on the television, so that he could not only speak with his wife but also see her in the finely polished metal mirror that was screwed onto the apparatus, observing each of her movements and facial expressions. The conversation lasted for a quarter of an hour and even longer, since they had a lot to say. He gave a very precise report of his voyage over the eternal ice and the incident that prevented him from being at the South Pole already. She was naturally proud of her husband’s immortal triumph, and before she broke off the conversation, she let the captain’s little daughter, his darling, come to the telephone.

“It’s magnificent, Kettner,” said the captain. “If we’ve succeeded in this, then we can also try to establish a connection with New York. It’s right around time for the theatre there. What would you think about enjoying a little music and listening to the opera for an hour or so. — Should we?”

Instead of an answer, Kettner gave the call sign again. The crackling bolts sparkled, flashed and blazed. “In five minutes we’ll have the music. Should I plug in the megaphone receiver?”

“Of course. Do you already know what they’re playing?”

“Yes, “Der Held der Lüfte.””

“Oh,” the captain shouted. “By Redfer, the Wagner of our times? That goes splendidly well with our present situation.” And now the two men sat and listened, here in the polar region’s eternal ice, to the sounds and voices of the New York Opera.

But right in the middle of the commotion came a different sound. A call. A veritable spray of bolts rained down.

“Well, what’s going on? Hurray!” he called out suddenly. “The generator on the ship is working again. We have power. Lieutenant, I’m now due at my place on the helm.”

And five minutes later the delicate airship lifted off, swaying high in the air, and glided over the ice fields – off to the pole.


I could go on in this style, God knows how long, and tell wonders on top of wonders, without straining my phantasy in the least, since all the things in the course of the “story” up to this point, which have sounded so wonderful, are actually problems that have been already solved today, or that are by no means part of the realm of pious wishes or overwrought hopes and expectations. No, they are facts that are only waiting to be introduced into our practical life, just as the telegraph and telephone and phonograph have been.

The Berliner Graf Arco and the American De Forest and the Dane Paulsen have provided proof that a distance of 4 to 500 English miles is not any serious obstacle for a wireless telephone conversation, and that music and song can be transmitted wireless, just like all other human or other voices. And as for “seeing” the person with whom one is speaking, this problem has also already been solved, even if a certain level of perfection has yet to be reached, a level for which we won’t have to wait 10 years, not to speak of the hundred years. And as for driving an aeromobile with this astonishing power that we call a “wireless” one, why not? Just in the last years we’ve solved the problem of this application of power, and a heavy string of barges (“Treidelzug”) was set in motion in a “wireless” way. But as for the speed of airships and flying machines, we’ve seen for ourselves that speeds of 90 km/h can already be reached, and at the last “Congress on Flight” the position, by no means sanguine, was represented that we will be able to increase this speed to 500 km “every day.”

Everything that we can now send and achieve through the wire, we can also send and achieve in a wireless way. This is the truth that is currently revolutionizing all the perspectives and methods of our scientific and mechanical world, and we can be glad about this fact, even if the copper magnates won’t make a happy face about it and will wish that the devil takes the wireless century, which is not only in the offing but already coming.

The principle on which the wireless transmission of power is based is one of the simplest that science knows, and it can never change, unless the world and the structure of the world themselves change.

We all know that seeing is only made possible through the light that reaches us in waves which pierces our light-sensitive visual nerves. Just like every sound passes through the atmosphere of the air in waves and pierces our eardrum, which vibrates under their influence, and makes hearing possible for us. In exactly the same way, an electric impulse, regardless of where it comes from, moves in waves through the aether, which surrounds every molecule of every material and leads the electric vibrations through the air, through the water, through the earth, and through ramparts and walls. And it is possible to pick up these vibrations everywhere, provided that you have a receiver (or “Empfänger”) tuned to the right wavelength at your disposal.

As soon the field of wireless is cleared up as expected, everyone will have their own pocket telephone through which they can be connected to anyone, regardless of where they are, whether on the ocean, in the mountains, in their rooms, or on a train rushing there, on a ship traveling there, on an aeroplane gliding there through the air, or on a submarine traveling there through the depths of the ocean. Everywhere, people will be connected with the rest of the world, will be able to speak with it and communicate with it, and will see it, if they want to see it, and regardless of whether they’re a thousand feet deep under the earth or under the mirror of the ocean, and everyone will be seen even in the smallest of their movements.


Citizens of the wireless age will go around everywhere with their “receivers,” which will be affixed to their hats or somewhere else and set to one of the myriad vibrations with which they are looking for a connection at the moment. Regardless of where they are, they will just need to set the voice indicator (“Stimm-zeiger”) to the appropriate number they want to talk to and the person being called will instantly be able to hear his headset vibrating or giving a signal, and will be able to decide whether they want to answer or break off the connection.

So long as they don’t leave inhabited and civilized areas, they won’t even need to have their “sending apparatus” with them, for there will be “sending stations” on every street, in every omnibus, on every ship, every airship, and every train, and naturally, the apparatus won’t be lacking in any public place or in their homes. So you’ll never find yourself in a tight spot.

And in the attempt to produce all apparatuses in the smallest possible space, the “receiver,” in spite of its complexity, will be a wonder of miniaturization.

This system of being tuned for very particular oscillations can be made comprehensible through a fact everyone knows, that if you sing a particular tone near a piano that’s open or a violin, the corresponding strings of the instrument immediately begin to vibrate with it and to sound with it. And just as a deep tone oscillates in long waves, and a higher tone in short waves, so in wireless telegraphy and telephony, the length of the vibrations that are sent out can be controlled precisely through your own apparatus.

The wireless telephone apparatus, which now is still stuck in its childhood, is rather large and cumbersome. But in the beginning, Bell’s telephone also demanded its own rather spacious cell, while today, we already have pocket telephones, with which we can communicate pretty well at a distance of five, six kilometers, and there are already researchers in the field of wireless who, on rainy nights using a normal umbrella that provides the necessary antenna, can pick up messages from the aether with a receiver that is not larger than a pill-case. But only when this apparatus becomes so perfected that even mere mortals will be able to use it, then our customary lifestyle will be influenced by it much more than did the introduction of our customary telephones.

On the way from and to work, you will no longer need to strain your eyes with newspapers, since you’ll be in touch with a “spoken newspaper” in the subway, or the railway, or on the bus, or wherever you’re traveling just then, and even if you’re walking on the street, and you’ll find out about all the events of the day, all the political events and all the markets that you want. *(There is already such a “spoken newspaper,” which has not yet “gone wireless” though, in Budapest among other places.) And if that doesn’t suit you, and your sense is oriented to higher things, then you’ll be connected to every theater, every church, every lecture and concert hall, and you’ll be able to participate in performances, sermons, and symphonies, indeed, the enjoyment of art from the whole world will become open to you, for the centers of “Telharmonie” will be able to connect you with Paris, Vienna, London, and Berlin, just as with your own city. This accomplishment of the wireless age will be reached, by the way, in a short time; even now the preparations are already in the works to supply Greater New York with such a wireless telephone connection, since it was found that this telephone can pass on tones and sounds much clearer than the telephones with wires that we’ve used up to now. The only problem, still far away, is designing our receiver apparatuses to be so sensitive that they can pick up all the vibrations, and having the impulse for transmission so much in our power that it goes directly to the receiver corresponding to it without stretching out in every direction and dissipating like the waves that spread in every direction when you throw a stone in the water.


In recent times, the fabulous art of the wireless transmission of images has been perfected so extraordinarily that it is no longer a toy, but rather doubtless called to play a very large role in the configuration of our future living conditions. And when this invention reaches the height of perfection, we will have to register a new series of daily wonders. Here, for example, is a scene that will play out every day in a hundred years or less.

The first lieutenant of the electro-turbine ship “Onward” stumbles into his captain’s cabin. “Captain,” he says, “we are receiving the wireless message from the New York Police that President Kramington has embezzled a million dollars from the New York City Bank and taken to flight. It’s suspected that he’s on the way to Europe.” The captain reads the description contained in the profile and smiles sarcastically.

“Apart from the white beard and the white hair, there’s nothing there that would distinguish the thief from other mortals, and since he probably colored his hair and shaved off his beard, we’ll hardly be able to find him, if the good ol’ police doesn’t at least send us his picture.”

In the same moment, the second lieutenant comes and, on behalf of the telegraph officers, hands over the photographs that the New York Police immediately sent after the profile on the wireless.

“Man alive!” the captain says, “That’s the man in the luxury cabin. I suspected him for a long time already. He’s acting like an old missionary who wants to go back to Africa, and claims that he’s sick from a fever. In spite of the change that the guy’s taken on, the similarity is unmistakable. The expression in his eyes and the way he holds his head are of the kind that I can’t be deceived. Let New York know that we’ve found their man.”

And to grasp that in the future it will no longer be possible for a criminal to come across the ocean without falling into the hands of justice, we only need to imagine that in the future entire ships, and not only the few large ocean steamers, will be provided with the apparatuses of wireless telegraphy. It is certain that this age will not only come, but is not too far in the distance. In this way, then, the cumbersome formalities of extradition will be frequently avoided. The German criminal who wants to reach America on a German steamer will be recognized on the high seas, in the way just depicted, and with the message to the Central Berlin Authorities another message will go to a nearby German warship simultaneously to catch the criminal simply on the high seas. Furthermore, the quick process will often be able to circumvent a panic in the market or disgruntlement about it; for usually the thief will be in the hands of justice before his theft becomes known in print and through it to the public at large.

Sending images and photographs to moving ships, trains, autos, and airships will become simple through the use of both, today “wired” methods and from now on “wireless.”

The method developed by Professor Korn, who had been in Munich and is now in Berlin, is based on the property of Selenium, conducting a large or small amount of electricity, which stands in a very particular relationship to the light that falls on this metal. Thus the various intensities of light and shadow that show up on a negative image can be sent over an electrical wire to a distance, and transferred there to customary photographic film that can be developed in the usual manner. The somewhat disjointed manner of images received like this, which appears unpleasant and very disturbing for landscapes and images with more precise details, can be avoided through the method developed by Edourad Belin in Paris. There, they make a dense charcoal drawing of the photograph to be sent, and over this charcoal drawing, the fine sapphire point of a stylus travels, by means of a rotating cylinder, that pulls in spiral lines over the whole surface of the image, lines that only stand a twentieth of a millimeter apart from each other. The difference in height on the surface of the drawing, which neither the eye or the feeling can notice, is enough to be transferred to the lever that holds the stylus, and this movement can be transferred further to the receiver at the receiving stating, where it has an effect on a point of light that through its greater or lesser intensity, just as in Korn’s system, acts on a film, that is then simply developed.

Another wonder of our age is Gray’s telautograph, which is able to send a written manuscript through the wireless aether. Just imagine what a great role this possibility will play in the future in the plays of our writers of sensational comedies.

Scene: A jail, heaven knows where. Time: One hour before the execution of someone innocently condemned. The mother and the bride of the condemned pray, by the will of God, to defer the execution, because a new petition for pardon has been sent to the Emperor. But a postponement is possible. The execution has to take place punctually at the determined time, and the Emperor is far far away on one of his voyages in Scandinavia or the Mediterranean. “Without the Emperor’s signature,” comes the answer, “no postponement is possible. The executioner is ready, the executioner will fulfill his office. All hope is lost with that. But no. The heroine of the play rushes to a wireless station. She knows the Emperor’s number that otherwise only his confidantes know. She calls him and speaks with him, the one who is busy, God knows where, with hunting or with state business. And suddenly a flash, a crackle, and on the paper unrolling slowly, there appears the Emperor’s writing. He has signed the pardon. She hurries back and comes just in time to stop the execution.

If we were to encounter such a play on the stage, we would no longer wonder about its “improbability” in the near future, since the problem of transmitting handwriting has already been completely solved today, even if it hasn’t been made available to the general public. With the help of two silk threads, Gray’s telautograph transfers the shaky movement that a stylus causes, writing on a quickly unrolling roll of paper that runs over these two silk threads. This movement is taken over by a receiver at the receiving station, and it causes the corresponding movement of a very thin, open ink tube that passes on the same written marks that were created at the receiving station, to more paper unrolling in the same way. Naturally, in this way, you can transmit not only handwriting but also any other drawing and all signs. We are unable to account for everything that the telautograph will be able to achieve in connection with the wireless transmission of images for identification over long distances, since this will lead us to areas that must seem completely fantastical to us today, although they are doubtless nothing other than the truth. The truth of the future, anyways. Bank deceptions will no longer be possible, there will be no more false statements or fake checks. Everybody will be known to every bank personally, as it were; for when they’re connected to you, they’ll see you, know your writing, see you writing your signature yourself, and all of that even if the bank is Berlin and the customer in Mexico. The wireless century will thus be many things, even if it doesn’t make an end of all crimes. It will be a century of morality, for as is well known, morality and fear are one and the same.


Monarchs, chancellors, diplomats, bankers, officials, and directors will be able to carry out their businesses and give their signatures wherever they are. Directors or one and the same business will be able to hold a legal meeting easily, even if one of them is at the summit of the Himalayas, another at an oasis in the African desert, the third at some spa, and the fourth just then on an aerial voyage. They will see each other, speak with each other, exchange their files and sign them, just as if they were all in one place. Nowhere, wherever you are, will you be alone. Everywhere, you will be in connection with everyone and everything. Everyone can see anyone they want, entertain themselves with anyone, play whist, skat, and poker, or chess and checkers with anyone, and even if the partner is a thousand miles away. You can also participate in every pleasure and every distraction, just as every one else can enjoy them. You can see the dancers of the King of Siam just as well in Paris as in your study, as you can be present at a performance of the great opera of Monte Carlo in your compartment on a trip. There is nothing that you won’t be able to do. You can see all the famous people of your age with your own eyes, and, if they let you, speak with them. Yes, perhaps an apparatus will even be invented through which you can shake their hands.

And traveling will undergo a fabulous reconfiguration in the wireless century. It will connect tremendous security with enormous speed. Already, the “wireless technicians” have not invented the aerophor, but also perfected it so that an automatic signaling apparatus can automatically signal to locomotive conductor whenever another train is running on the same stretch of track and is at a distance of only two English miles. Naturally, the apparatus also indicates the direction this train is moving in. With that, the conductors of the trains on both sides are in the position to slow down or to stop or possibly to drive onto another track. But, in any case, a crash is completely impossible. The same apparatus warns sailors in bad fog and announces the distance of another ship crossing their path or that they’ll cross in their path. And any other obstacle for the ship at a certain distance will be signaled to them through the apparatus, indicating the precise distance it is away. Yes, people have constructed the apparatus in such a way that when signaling danger, it not only gives the signal to stop to the machine room, but even brings the machines themselves automatically to a still-stand.

In the future, you’ll be able to travel wonderfully, whether on the sea or under the sea, whether on the earth or under the earth or above the earth in our newly conquered empire of the air. But whoever does not want to travel in spite of all that, will be able, as mentioned, to travel the whole world in the comfort of his own room. There will be no more time and no more distance, and we will all be able to present at a catastrophe, as recently in Messina and Calabria, sitting safe in our houses regardless of where it happens. We will simply let ourselves be connected to the scenes of disaster in a wireless way, and whoever doesn’t have enough with the sight alone, but rather wants to taste the sensation in a most terrifying way, will hear, if he wants, the people’s pained whimpering, the death rattles of the dying and the cries of the hungry and the curses of the mad. We will be able to participate in every event like this. The whole world will just be one single place in which we leave. No space will divide us any one, we will be everywhere, assuming that we’re still around at all. —Even this image, which I have sketched out, is in no one one that we will achieve only first in a hundred years. No. The apparatus that makes it possible has already been invented and was only patented last December by a young New York inventor, Rothschild. And in principle, it’s nothing more than the brilliant combination of the kinematograph, telautograph, telephone, and the great inventions that preceded all of those.

In political life, as well, wireless telegraphy will play an extraordinary role. The process of voting, for example, will be able to be completely centralized, and the election can be carried out just in the imperial capital. Everyone will be in the position to cast their votes from where they are at the time and every voter will be identified simply through comparison with the voting lists that will contain not only their names and positions, but also photographs. From the highest glaciers, from the fields and bogs of the marshes, you’ll be able to cast your vote, and the chief of state, if he wants and in whatever way he intends to do this, will have the opportunity to create an image from the people’s votes that is true to reality, for Emperors and Presidents will no longer be instructed by the report of some advisor but will himself be able to be present, sitting in his castle, at every assembly, at every protest, and will be able to be connected with anyone from who he believes he’ll receive information that is true to reality. The voice of truth will be able to penetrate into closed off palaces and resound there no longer unheard.

In courtrooms, as well, wireless telegraphy will play a powerful role. Witnesses will no longer have to be brought from far away, but will simply appear before the court, while they just stay at home or take care of their business. Consequently, the costs of court procedures will become much cheaper; the waste of time won’t be as great as it is now, and nobody will have to wait for hours in the court building. A call will be enough, and any witness, even if at the North Pole, will be at the scene in an instant. In the same way, confrontations will arise. In a wireless way, the murderer in Chicago will be placed across from the principal witness who is perhaps in Siberia. Both witnesses will stand across from each other face-to-face, and here as there you will be able to follow and participate in the whole court proceedings. The only disturbing thing will be the time difference, so that some witnesses will have to testify in the middle of the night when they participate in a trial for which the local time difference is so significant.


Scene: An elegant boudoir on 5th Avenue in New York. A bride, the daughter of a multimillionaire, is completely beside herself and drowning in tears. A horrible accident happened. Her bridal toilet has been ruined; a cigarette burned a hole in it. So next Saturday it will be impossible for her to go to the wedding, and she’d rather not even get married. And covering up the damages somewhat with a point, not for the whole world. Either the dress is immaculate or she won’t put it on. A secret tailor? Doesn’t even occur to her. The dress have to be from Paquin. From this world-famous company, existing over 100 years, that was already her first choice in 1908. “But baby,” the groom calls, “it’s really simple. We’ll get connected with Paquin on the telephone, choose a bridal toilet, give your measurements and have the dress be sent to us through a wireless aerial motor.” In this moment, it was as if the young bride’s pain flew away. She rejoices loudly, claps her hands, and gives the command to bring her apparatus. Five minutes later the Parisian models are already strolling over to her with the bridal toilet she chose. The measurements were taken exactly and indicated, and six hours later the happy bride now has her dress again, which is ten times as pretty as the one her groom had ruined. In general, shopping in this age will be an even greater pleasure than it is now. You’ll be able to wander through all the department stores simply from your room, and stop in every department that you want to view of where you want to choose something. The clerks will spread out the wares in the department stores, just as now; the (female) customers will not themselves be in the department stores, but wherever they happen to be. At home by themselves or in company somewhere else. And they’ll be able to make a selection and have all their girlfriends participate, and everything will appear before their eyes as in the flesh; for naturally, all the images will be able to be seen in their natural colors.

The influence of wireless telegraphy will also be extraordinary for marriage and love. Lovers and married couples will never be separated from each other, even when they are hundreds and thousands of miles away. They will always see each other, always speak, in short, the golden age of love will set in and the age of widows will be destroyed; for in the future, the corporeal wise will always be persuaded of what her husband is doing; but the husband will know exactly what, and whether, his wife thinks of him.

War will also be essentially modified through the wireless age. Cutting through cables and destroying telegraphic lines will no longer slow down the movements of an army. There will be no more commands that are understood incorrectly, and the commander will not have to wait for a report on the course of a battle, but will have an overview of the whole battlefield himself, and not only the one battlefield but the whole land in which the military operation is proceeding. He will even be in the position not only to set the large columns of the army in motion according to his will, but even the small divisions. His general’s gaze only will decide; for, in his room or in his barracks, he will see everything, the movements of his armies, as well as those of the crowd of enemies. The reporting will naturally be at an extraordinary height; for everything, even the smallest little paper, as every subscriber to it, will be permitted the luxury of being present at the events of the war and seeing all the details from their rooms. In short, all these wonders of wireless telegraphy will make the coming age into a tremendous unbelievable one.

Unbelievable? Not really. We have already experienced wonders that are just as great. Only thirty years ago there was no electric light, no telephone, no gramophone, and no phonograph. We have now created these great wonders, and what I have presented is nothing more than the general application of them; it is only what will certainly come, and, in part, already exists. But totally different possibilities are available. It is possible that a farmer will be able to grow fruits that are six to ten times larger than they are now. It is probably that he’ll harvest the fruits six to ten times per year rather than one to two times. It is possible that a doctor will cure a city inflicted with a pandemic disease by having an electric cyclone wave of wireless energy flow over it. Prophets of the weather will no longer announce the weather, but rather make it. Sunshine and rain will now depend on people’s wills. Everywhere on earth, we’ll chase out winter and every storm through electric heat waves that will spread an eternal spring across the lands. And a new Marconi will perhaps establish connection with the inhabitants of Mars and thereby reveal the secrets of other worlds.


The World in 100 Years

Die Welt in hundert Jahren (The world in a hundred years, 1909-10) is a collection of 22 predictions about the future made just over one hundred years ago. The essays, collected by Arthur Brehmer and illustrated by Ernst Lübbert, cover a wide range of topics, including art, literature, theatre, music, sports, medicine, pedagogy, women’s rights, social conventions, and international relations (see the full table of contents below). Some of the predictions seem especially uncanny, especially the predictions of solar energy in “Das tausendjährige Reich der Maschinen” (The 1000 year empire of machines) and wireless technology in “Das drahtlose Jahrhundert” (The wireless century), which will be the subject of my next blog post.

In general, the essays revel in the wondrous aspect of modern technology, the theme of contemporary books like Artur Fürst’s Die Wunder um uns (1911), and like Fürst, the authors reflect on the problematic Enlightenment link between technological progress and social progress. As Kathrin Forster argues, the collection stands right on the cusp of futurology, our current age of scientific forecasting that comes after the ages of oracles, prophecies, and utopias, and it should be read alongside Charles Richet’s “Dans cent ans” (1892) and H.G. Well’s Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought (1901).

After Die Welt in hundert Jahren was reprinted in 2008, it did receive some press, even inspiring an art exhibition at Ars Electronica. Still, surprisingly few academic studies have dealt with it.

The cover of the book shows what appears to be an allegory for the Veil of Isis, holding a globe and an hourglass.
The cover of the book shows what appears to be an allegory for the Veil of Isis, holding a globe and an hourglass.


Inhaltsverzeichnis (Table of Contents):

  1. Arthur Brehmer, “Vorwort” (Foreword)
  2. Hudson Maxim, “Das 1000 jährige Reich der Maschinen” (The 1000-year empire of machines)
  3. Robert Sloss, “Das drahtlose Jahrhundert” (The wireless century)
  4. Cesare Lombroso, “Verbrechen und Wahnsinn im XXI. Jahrhundert” (Crime and madness in the 21st century)
  5. Rudolf Martin, “Der Krieg in 100 Jahren” (War in 100 years)
  6. Bertha von Suttner, “Der Frieden in 100 Jahren” (Peace in 100 years)
  7. Frederik Wolworth Brown, “Die Schlacht von Lowestoft” (The Battle of Lowestoft)
  8. Karl Peters, “Die Kolonien in 100 Jahren” (Colonies in 100 years)
  9. Ellen Key, “Die Frau in 100 Jahren” (Women in 100 years)
  10. Dora Dyx, “Die Frau und die Liebe” (Women and Love)
  11. Baronin von Hutten, “Die Mutter von Einst” (Mothers of Old)
  12. Alexander von Gleichen-Rußwurm, “Gedanken über die Geselligkeit” (Thoughts on being sociable)
  13. Jehan van der Straaten, “Unterricht und Erziehung in 100 Jahren” (Teaching and education in 100 years)
  14. Björne Björnson, “Die Religion in 100 Jahren” (Religion in 100 years)
  15. Eduard Bernstein, “Das sozial Leben in 100 Jahren. Was können wir von der Zukunft des sozialen Lebens wissen?” (Social life in 100 years: What can we know about the future of social life?)
  16. Hermann Bahr, “Die Literatur in 100 Jahren” (Literature in 100 Years)
  17. Wilhelm Kienzl, “Die Musik in 100 Jahren. Ein überflüßige Betrachtung” (Music in 100 years: A superfluous observation)
  18. Everard Hustler, “Das Jahrhundert des Radiums” (The century of radium)
  19. Professor C. Lustig, “Die Medizin in 100 Jahren” (Medicine in 100 years)
  20. Cesare de Lotto, “Die Kunst in 100 Jahren” (Art in 100 years)
  21. Charles Dona Edward, “Der Sport in 100 Jahren” (Sports in 100 years)
  22. Frl. Prof. E. Renaudot, “Die Welt und der Komet” (The world and comets)
  23. Garett Putnam Serviss, “Der Weltuntergang” (The end of the world)