Chapter 4

Phase 2

Context—How Context Accelerates Collaboration and Innovation

In the late 1860s and early 1870s, scientists in Europe and America began intensively researching human physiology. Particularly keen to unlock the most complex systems of the body, considerable attention focused on how massive networks of veins and arteries served the heart in circulating blood and how the lungs functioned in respiration. Curiously, scientists also “recognized the ear as one of the most complicated parts of the human body,”1 desiring to probe its mysteriously fashioned bones and membranes for the secrets of registering sound.

In 1876, shortly after this intense interest in human anatomy unfolded, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for the telephone, creating the world’s first technology for transmitting sound using the human voice. Exposed for years to detailed three-dimensional models of the human ear commissioned by his father, phonetics expert Professor Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander Graham had long been fascinated with how the ear processed sound. As a young child, Alexander had watched his mother, Eliza Grace, grow progressively deaf, ultimately losing her hearing entirely when he was only 12 years old. Eager to understand mechanisms that could aid the deaf to communicate through speech and other means, Alexander gained access to scholarly research on acoustics as well as the mechanics of human speech through a school for the deaf owned by his father. Developing a passionate ...

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