A Plague of Piano Lessons

Friedrich Kittler’s books construct a firmly material foundation below the idea of discourse as Michel Foucault framed it: the conventions and boundaries of what can be said at any given time. These are the shifts, he says, that constitute historical change.  Taking over Foucault’s broad timeframe (one such shift about 1800, another about 1900), Kittler examines the impact of Grammophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford: Stanford University Press) on 19th-century European discourse. In his account the typewriter’s impact on social relationships, Kittler quotes from a book by two economists writing in 1895:  

…it may come as a surprise to find a practical use for what has become a veritable plague across the country, namely, piano lessons for young girls: the resultant dexterity is very useful for the operation of  the typewriter.  Rapid typing on it can be achieved only through the dexterous use of all fingers. If this profession is not yet as lucrative in Germany as it is in America, it is due to the infiltration of elements who perform the job of typist mechanically, without any additional skills.

Julius Mayer and Josef Silbermann, Die Frau im Handel und Gewerbe, Der Existenzkampf der Frau im modernen Leben.  Seine Ziele und Aussichten [Women in Business and Industry. Women’s Struggle for Existence in Modern Life. Her Goals and Prospects] 7, Berlin, 1895, 264.