Only two inventions in Western history have truly succeeded in changing mindsets and were directly responsible for generating others: the printing press and the steam engine. The press enabled information to be diffused across nations and continents and persuaded people to espouse new opinions, rally to action, or to become a global citizen. The Internet does exactly the same thing via a different medium and it’s for this reason why we should see it as a successor to printing rather than an entirely new invention. The steam engine meant that trains and ships could move in hitherto rapid speeds and the world suddenly became smaller. The downside was that it became an effective tool of colonization. Humans hankered after spanning even more distance in less time, and this led to the automobile and the plane in a direct line of technical succession.
While historians hotly dispute when radio transmission was first invented and by whom, we know that the first public demonstration of a radio broadcast of the human voice was made by Landell de Moura, above, a Brazilian Catholic priest and scientist, on 3 June, 1900. Moura belongs to a long and distinguished list of clergy who were major scientists, a group that includes Georges Lemaître, a Belgian cleric who formulated the Big Bang Theory. The medium took a while to be be developed, but commercial radio stations spread like wildfire from 1920 onwards. It led to the demise of silent movies and, ultimately, to televisual technology, peaking in its influence and popularity during the 1940s. It is very interesting that, during the first few decades of radio and television, the devices people possessed at home purposely resembled a piece of furniture rather than having any futuristic or mechanical aspects. It is as if manufacturers wanted to reassure the public that this was something safe and homely and I took the image below at the National Music Centre in Calgary.
These sets and the medium itself was known as the wireless, a word that had fallen into disuse until computers took up wireless reception. For my part, I gave up television a long time ago and have a television set only for watching selective DVDs. I took great care to ensure that the device is not the focus of my living room, a mantelpiece and some art are, since it does not represent, in any way, a tabernacle of entertainment for me. While many good and worthwhile programmes are broadcast, there is a temptation of dependency that is very difficult to overcome and I never wanted to fall back into the habits of my teenaged self, watching several hours a day. Radio does not demand the listener’s attention in quite the same insistent way as television does, and leaves room for imagination to do its work. While it is true that we may spend hours on the Internet, it remains an interactive experience which ultimately leaves control in our own hands.
Today’s cufflinks very much evoke a radio set to me, albeit an abstracted version of one. They bear the maker’s mark of Peggy Miller and are made out of brass. Miller may have studied with the great 20th-century artist Betty Cooke in Baltimore and is one of a handful of artisans who worked with brass during the 1950s and 1960s, which she often paired with ebony wood. These cufflinks are rare since she didn’t make very many examples, concentrating on women’s jewellery, pendants and necklaces in particular. Given the radio theme, I would guess that they date from the late 1940s or early 1950s. I like this pair very much as they are bold yet simple, alluding to a medium that was about to be gravely attacked by television but which would ultimately rise again.