Claims that today’s digital technologies are unprecedented in their effect on society are founded on a weak understanding of the roles played by pre-digital technologies. Although the landline phone was the most ubiquitous American technology of the twentieth century, and an important influence on social and political life, it has received little attention in most fields of scholarship. But widespread use of the landline telephone is key to explaining how activists in the U.S. Central America movement of the 1980s sustained their commitment and sense of community. Telephony’s emotional and sensory qualities, underpinned by the powers of the human voice, were significant factors in the Central America movement’s longevity and potency. Communications technology had a profound influence on the character and results of protest movements well before the digital age.

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