The media of relativity: Einstein and telecommunications technologies

Jimena Canales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How are fundamental constants, such as “c” for the speed of light, related to the technological environments that produce them? Relativistic cosmology, developed first by Albert Einstein, depended on military and commercial innovations in telecommunications. Prominent physicists (Hans Reichenbach, Max Born, Paul Langevin, Louis de Broglie, and Léon Brillouin, among others) worked in radio units during WWI and incorporated battlefield lessons into their research. Relativity physicists, working at the intersection of physics and optics by investigating light and electricity, responded to new challenges by developing a novel scientific framework. Ideas about lengths and solid bodies were overhauled because the old Newtonian mechanics assumed the possibility of “instantaneous signaling at a distance.” Einstein’s universe, where time and space dilated, where the shortest path between two points was often curved and non-Euclidean, followed the rules of electromagnetic “signal” transmission. For these scientists, light’s constant speed in the absence of a gravitational field-a fundamental tenet of Einstein’s theory-was a lesson derived from communication technologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)610-645
Number of pages36
JournalTechnology and Culture
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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