Grey Room

Interaction Chronograph: The Administration of Equilibrium

Seth Barry Watter

“Interaction Chronograph” (technically a Marsto-Graph), ca. 1941. From Eliot D. Chapple, “Interaction Chronograph,” in Jacob Finesinger et al., An Investigation of Prediction of Success in Naval Flight Training (1948).


The Interaction Chronograph was a type of event recorder, and event recorders, per their name, record discrete events. Eliot Chapple built the first of a series of such devices for timekeeping in 1938. He used it in some studies of colleagues and associates in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University—demolishing a wall of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography to facilitate observation. His subjects agreed to talk in pairs informally in front of someone seated at a modified typewriter. Precisely what they said and did—what we think of as content—was omitted entirely to better comprehend form. For the interaction concept was formal not semantic, and the Interaction Chronograph was a formalizing instrument. What Chapple sought in each case was not only the rhythm of this or that pilot, salesman, or delinquent; he also took stock of that larger arrangement into which the unit-member had to be fit. For if disequilibrium was just an effect of incompatible rhythms forced to share the same space, then assessment by the Chronograph would restore the equilibrium. It administered equilibrium as one administers drugs. If done on the scale that Chapple intended, all of society would be so administered.