(English Version below – Please scroll down)
Hugo Gernsback als Pionier der Accessibility
Hier der Originaltext des Artikels im Auszug:
Der dritte, “Physiophon” genannte Apparat, den wir auf der zweiten Abbildung erblicken, stammt aus Amerika. Er wurde von dem Elektriker H. Gernsbach in Neuyork erfunden und hat äußerlich viel Ähnlichkeit mit einer Vorrichtung zur Fernübertragung von Grammophondarbietungen, bei der jedoch die Schallkapsel durch eine äußerst empfindliche Mikrophonkapsel ersetzt ist, auf die der Aufnahmestift seine Schwingungen unmittelbar überträgt. Ferner sind an Stelle des Fernhörers zwei Handgriffe angebracht, ähnlich denen, die bei Elektrisiermaschinen üblich sind. Die verschiedenen Schwingungen der Mikrophonmembran verursachen ein rhythmisches Prickeln in den Händen, das so genau wiedergegeben wird, daß man nach einiger Übung nicht nur die einzelnen Töne und die Melodie, sondern sogar die verschiedenen Instrumente unterscheiden kann. Aus diesem Grunde eignet sich der Apparat in gleicher Weise auch für hörende Menschen, indem die vom Ohr aufgenommenen Eindrücke dadurch daß sie dem gesamten Nervensystem mitgeteilt werden, bedeutend vertieft und verfeinert werden.
SciFi Curiosity: Hugo Gernsback’s Physiophon
The Father of Science Fiction’s foray into Accessibility Technology
If you are into Science Fiction you will most likely have heard of the HUGO awards. And if you are really into Science Fiction, chances are high you know that the most prestigious award is named after the Luxembourgish-American inventor and entrepreneur Hugo Gernsback, who, if not inventing the genre as such, at least coined the term Science Fiction.
Born in 1894 in Luxembourg, Hugo Gernsback got his college education in engineering in Germany and emigrated to the US in 1905 where he worked as an electrical engineer and became involved in the fledgling radio and even television industry.
Today, he is best remembered for being the editor of the first Science Fiction magazines, which essentially created the market for the emerging genre. Without the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, Science Fiction literature as we know it today probably would not exist.
There is only one problem: Despite all the fame to his name, Gernsback’s personal reputation was not the best. His own literary attempts were reputed to be shoddy at best, and his business practices dodgy, to say the least. He paid his authors a pittance – if he paid them at all – earning him the moniker “Hugo the Rat” by his contemporaries H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. So, was he just a shady businessman, a hack who couldn’t write a decent story himself and treated much better writers unfairly? Maybe.
There is at least some evidence he became involved in what we would call accessibility or assistive technology today. An electrical engineer by trade, Gernsback held a number of patents to his name. It was in this capacity as an inventor that he became known to a wider audience during his lifetime. The image above from a German book from 1922, shows Gernsback with one of his inventions meant to enable deaf people to “listen” to music. The device, called Physiophon, would turn soundwaves into vibrations that could be felt through the handles that the users held in both hands. With a bit of practice, one could not only feel sounds and melodies but even distinguish between individual instruments, thus enabling the deaf to “listen to” or feel music through their hands.
According to another source, Gernsback had also envisioned the use of his invention in the cinema, rigging the theatre seats in order to enhance the acoustic experience with physical sensations. There seems to be no evidence that the Physiophon was ever available commercially on a large scale, but the concept is fascinating: overcoming human shortcomings and enhancing the senses by technology. If that isn’t an invention worthy of the Father Science Fiction, then I don’t know what.
The Book – Das Neue Universum
Das Neue Universum (literally, The New Universe) was a series of books for kids and teenagers that ran in Germany from 1880 to 2002 (!). Originally aimed at boys, the books were an eclectic mix of adventure stories, travel accounts, science, experiments and DIY instructions and oddities.