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McKelvey School of Engineering

Brown School

Overload: Switchboard Automation and the Disability History of 0s and 1s

Friday, November 12, 2021 | 4:00 PM

Umrath Hall, 140
Umrath Hall, St. Louis, MO 63130

A Performing Arts Department Colloquium

This talk considers the early history of digital labor and automation through a focus on the telephone switchboard. Labor historians suggest that operator management issues as much as technical innovation drove switchboard automation after 1913, when the Bell Telephone System consolidated its power as a legally sanctioned monopoly. Thinking alongside Frantz Fanon’s mid-century insights about telephone operators, surveillance capitalism, and overwork, this talk will highlight workers’ compensation for “disability” in New York and in the Bell System as an overlooked cost and management factor in early automation.

This colloquium is free and open to the public.

Event Type



Arts & Sciences


Humanities & Society



Event Contact


Speaker Information
Mara Mills, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
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