Thursday, September 06, 2007
46. Victorian Internet - Tom Standage

I finished the first book off of my list today, Victorian Internet by Tom Standage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this short book (~215 pages) but I quite enjoyed it. Standage looks back at the invention and development of the telegraph and compares its use and society’s attitude towards it to the internet. The book is an easy read and very engaging, and despite its occasional discussion of the mechanics of electrical currents, it’s not a “technical” read so those of us (myself included) with little or no knowledge of how those little wires work won’t be left behind.

It was fascinating to see how similar both the telegraph and today’s internet really are. Standage covers a wide range of similarities as he outlines the telegraph’s development. As with any new technology, its introduction was met with skepticism. Some claimed, as they did with the introduction of the internet, that the telegraph would break down national barriers and bring about world peace (ha!). The heyday of the telegraph was one of “online” romances (even weddings), was used to play games (mainly checkers and chess) as well as the sharing of jokes, many of which would have been considered quite dirty even by today’s standards. Additionally, numerous “online” scam artists tried to take advantage of unsuspecting operators and message senders, something that we can all confirm is still going on today.

Despite the sometimes juvenile uses, it soon became an integral part of news reporting and the business world. As the technology changed to meet the increasing demands of those who chose to take advantage of the speed the telegraph offered, it led to the invention (or developed into) of the stock ticker and ultimately the telephone which would eventually lead to the end of the telegraph’s popularity.

Certainly not the defining work on the history of the telegraph but in this modern age of high speed communication, online dating, and Nigerian politicians requiring our help (and willing to pay top dollar for it), it’s interesting to note not much has changed in the past 150 years.

Captain recommended.


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