The New Yorker has been writing about science and technology for almost a century. In one of the magazine’s earliest science articles, “Invention Factory,” from 1931, the reporter Malcolm Ross visits Bell Telephone Laboratories, which occupies a ten-story building on the Hudson, at West and Bank Streets in the West Village. Ross tours the building, eager to see the research that, “depression or not,” the telephone company is funding to the tune of nineteen million dollars a year. On the roof, to test its durability, telephone equipment is being prematurely aged in the wind and rain; inside, technicians are working to find the combination of metals that will most efficiently carry a signal. In one lab, hundreds of researchers have been working to create an automated switchboard; in another, a hushed “sanctum,” mathematicians are exploring the relationship between population density and what we’d now call bandwidth. For the past year, Ross writes, “two airplanes have been flying around New Jersey, by day and by night, in the worst weather they can find,” so that Bell Labs’s scientists can improve the radio systems that connect airports to pilots; related technologies are being developed for Hollywood, to help clean up “the buzzing noise which is continually present in all talkies.” Ross speaks to one scientist about the prospects for 3-D cinema but has sad news to report: it’s unlikely that “movie heroines will soon appear on the screen with the rounded effect of your Uncle Stephen’s stereopticon collection of stage beauties.” But there’s better news in the ultraviolet photomicroscope lab, where a microscope Bell commissioned to look at metals is now being used to peer at chromosomes.
The New Yorker has launched NewYorker.com/tech and plans to feature current coverage and articles from the archives, which as the excerpt above shows goes back a long time (and proves the more things advance the more the process of progress is the same.)