Cover image for Haunted media : electronic presence from telegraphy to television
Haunted media : electronic presence from telegraphy to television
Sconce, Jeffrey, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Durham, NC : Duke University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 257 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
P96.T42 S37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In Haunted Media Jeffrey Sconce examines American culture's persistent association of new electronic media--from the invention of the telegraph to the introduction of television and computers--with paranormal or spiritual phenomena. By offering a historical analysis of the relation between communication technologies, discourses of modernity, and metaphysical preoccupations, Sconce demonstrates how accounts of "electronic presence" have gradually changed over the decades from a fascination with the boundaries of space and time to a more generalized anxiety over the seeming sovereignty of technology.
Sconce focuses on five important cultural moments in the history of telecommunication from the mid-nineteenth century to the present: the advent of telegraphy; the arrival of wireless communication; radio's transformation into network broadcasting; the introduction of television; and contemporary debates over computers, cyberspace, and virtual reality. In the process of examining the trajectory of these technological innovations, he discusses topics such as the rise of spiritualism as a utopian response to the electronic powers presented by telegraphy and how radio, in the twentieth century, came to be regarded as a way of connecting to a more atomized vision of the afterlife. Sconce also considers how an early preoccupation with extraterrestrial radio communications tranformed during the network era into more unsettling fantasies of mediated annihilation, culminating with Orson Welles's legendary broadcast of War of the Worlds . Likewise, in his exploration of the early years of television, Sconce describes how programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits continued to feed the fantastical and increasingly paranoid public imagination of electronic media. Finally, Sconce discusses the rise of postmodern media criticism as yet another occult fiction of electronic presence, a mythology that continues to dominate contemporary debates over television, cyberspace, virtual reality, and the Internet.
As an engaging cultural history of telecommunications, Haunted Media will interest a wide range of readers including students and scholars of media, history, American studies, cultural studies, and literary and social theory.

Author Notes

Jeffrey Sconce is Associate Professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at Northwestern University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Offering a unique, readable, and engrossing account of the fantasies and mythology people embrace in coping with electronic media, Sconce (USC) eschews the lure of the latest technology and grounds his explorations with a historical perspective that connects telegraphy to cybernetics. The title derives from the seeming capability of telecommunications to produce sound and image without material substance. Sconce argues that electronic presence, seemingly an essential property of media, is in fact a variable social construct whose forms, potential, and perceived dangers have changed across media history. He begins with telegraphy, explaining how transmission of words by electricity led to the spiritualist movements and the belief that electromagnetism could bring contact with the dead. He follows with an examination of radio and how wireless use of the "ether" led to the idea that "men from Mars" could pick up human transmissions and make contact in return; of television, with its "live" presence giving evidence that one could dissolve one's corporeal self and physical world; and of the cyberworld and acceptance of postmodern theories that claim there are no realities now, just virtual experiences. The writing is brilliant and author's grasp of the social and cultural implications of electronic media is breathtaking. A must for all collections. R. Cathcart; emeritus, CUNY Queens College