A message for today from the vast telephone exchanges of the last century

DDYEX8 Inside a New York telephone exchange, USA, early 1930s. Artist: Unknown

A Nineteen Forties telecommunications museum in Seattle exhibits how telephones deliver us collectively and tear us aside on the similar time. Annalee Newitz


| columnist

February 15, 2023

Heritage Picture Partnership Ltd /Alamy

I stood inside a warehouse sandwiched between two floor-to-ceiling frames that appeared like outdated bookshelves or server racks from one other planet. Their surfaces have been alive with metallic keys connected to outdated wires whose plastic sheaths had pale and turned brown. I felt like I used to be trapped in a machine from a Charlie Chaplin film. However I used to be really within the bowels of the Quantity 5 Crossbar Switching System (5XB), developed at Bell Labs within the Nineteen Forties to route hundreds of cellphone calls concurrently. The sounds I heard have been digits passing via electrical switches mounted on sleepers.

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