"Telegraphy--the Victorian Internet" - T. Standage; "The Telephone in America" - C. Fischer; "Mobile Telephony..." - I. de Vries


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I found the Tom Standage piece quite comical. The thought of people thinking they could send actual objects over a telegraph is very entertaining. If some of the stories are true, it makes me shake my head and want to be downright mean by saying that these people were just plain stupid. But I suppose, I should be gentler than that because all humans go through a confusion stage when introduced with a new technology. I do think that most everyone is so used to mind-boggling technologies these days, however, that to make a mistake in the assumptions of what something can do like the people did about the telegraph, would be almost impossible.

Today, messages traveling across the world in a millisecond is commonplace. Children now understand this concept at the age of two or three years old. I cannot even imagine living in the 19th century and hearing first news of a telegraph system which could relay messages in a days time. It must have been extremely confusing and a hard-to-grasp concept for most.

I also found the section about laying wire across the ocean floor somewhat comical. We do not think about these types of struggles today, as we have airwave and satellite connections that can speak across oceans. And as for electricity in the ocean, we have conquered that with off-shore wind turbine fields and wave-harnessing generators. I laughed as I read the part about the fisherman dragging in the wire and thinking it was some new sea weed. If a fisherman today did the same thing, he would probably go into hiding for fear of being prosecuted for destroying a major form of communication! He would not get to claim that he thought it was a form of sea weed!


When I read the readings for this week I saw that overenthusiasm and overestimation were trends that always surrounded the introduction of new communication technologies, as much in the past as today. Just as how the internet was hyped up to be a new frontier that transcends all boundaries and makes its own rules, the telegraph would bring free instantaneous communication to all people, television was supposed to allow its viewers to witness every event going on worldwide and, most surprisingly, “radio would pave the way for contact with the dead.” These inventions rarely, if ever, accomplished any of those things, and some have even fallen into obsolescence. While there are always some skeptics to question whether or not a new technology can back up its tall tales and claims, it seems that on average there are more people who get excited and can’t contain their hype over new technology, and I wonder why that is. Perhaps it is because we look back on foundation narratives for past technologies, see how great they seemed to be, and assume that whatever is going on right now will be just as great. Those narratives never tell the whole story, however.


It's astounding to think of how far we've come since the telegraph and all of the obstacles that came in the way of maximizing the telegraph's efficiency. Yet, the technology itself had a pretty rapid expansion. The Transcontinental telegraph line replaced the Pony Express by October 1861, but the Cross-Channel line was more difficult to implement. Pipes needed to be constructed underwater, and messages were being messed up by the cable's electric properties “in a way that was poorly understood at the time” (135). Rubber was found to be a suitable alternative to lead for constructing these pipes. Another problem was cost-effectiveness -- companies were spending $1000/year on telegraphs, according to Standage. People used it to read urgent news, otherwise pretty much only the rich could afford it. In order to save space (and thus time) on messages, senders came up with a system of abbreviations. It reminded me of what we call "text-speak."

These readings point out the pattern of hypermediacy, which seems to rise whenever a new improvement of a technology is made available. DeVries defines this phenomenon as "every time a new medium distances itself from other media by promising a more immediate experience” (15). Telegraphs were not guaranteed to send messages right away, and sometimes they get misplaced. The telephone opened up a door for a more instantaneous, efficient, and connected level of communication. DeVries observes two immediate effects of phones: You didn’t have to know Morse code (which translates to less time spent in an intermediary operator), and you end up with a creation of a permanent global network. Awesome. But there was still an absence of visual cues lost from face-to-face contact, and this form of long-distance communication was only possible from the location of the telephone landline. Fast forward a couple of decades, and now we have TV and Skype. What form of communication will come next? How much closer will we get to one another by non-physical means? “To communicate like angels means the ability to access the information network at any time, at any place” (deVries 24). Reading that brought some chills down my spine. How much are we willing to share about ourselves, and how much do we trust others to take advantage of this? I wouldn't be surprised if we will literally be seeing the world through someone else's eyes sometime in the future.

The narrative that Imar de Vries constructs is a fascinating one. The notion that technological progression in communication is driven by an ideal communication, one where communication is an instantaneous sharing of thought free of any miscommunication, is one I was unfamiliar with. So too had I not quite carried a relationship between the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and mobile phones in quite the way it is written here. What I mean is that delineation between private communication and mass communication has always had a firm distinction in my mind. So, it’s interesting to consider that radio or television would have in their infancy been optimistically been considered as the latest in communications to replace telephony for private one-on-one communications. That they were taken over by private for-profit corporations and used principally as entertainment mediums is something I’ve taken for granted; I’ve never known differently, that is what they are. Noteworthy too is the idea these communications technologies were ideally meant to bridge divides, drawing us closer as a community. Instead, these technologies are so effective at delivering information that isolate us; we no longer have the same need to venture out as we did before. My favorite is a quote from the reading:

“The pathetic hermit, squatting in his room, hundreds of miles away from the scene that he experiences as his present life, the “viewer’ who cannot even laugh or applaud without feeling ridiculous, is the final product of a century-long development, which has led from the campfire, the market place and the arena to lonesome consumer of spectacles today” (Arnheim)

I imagine myself locked away at my desk streaming sitcoms on my computer. The canned laughter conveniently lets even the densest know when they’re supposed to laugh…


Before reading Fischer’s piece about the telephone in America, I would have imagined the development and distribution of the telephone to have been different, to have been more “innocent” in a way. Instead, it seems that it was a constant war. I found it entertaining to read about the competition between the Bell Company (AT&T) and independent telephone companies. I was rooting for the independent companies from the start since I generally disagree with monopolistic organizations. Reading about the tactics the rivalries employed to gain more consumers than the other was ridiculous. For instance, the company General Electric didn’t sell supplies to independent companies because it was owned by Bell or how both sides would disassemble the other’s wires to disrupt service. All of this made me chuckle—rather than professional companies they seem more like school children fighting over a toy in the sandbox. This made the reading really interesting.

I found the Standage article Telegraphy- The Victorian Internet very fascinating. People were so naive and optimistic about what the telegraph could do. I found the stories about people's confusion over how the telegraph worked just hysterical and makes me wonder what kind of thoughts went through people's heads when more complex communication systems were invented or will I be trying to do strange things with future inventions. Although, nothing seems as strange as trying to send sauerkraut in a telegram. Somehow this has led me to a question that I think of all the time, Where do we go from here? I feel like we have reached the climax in communication technologies where we can indeed come up with a newer, sleeker looking version of what we already have, but how can we go further than we have, yet people will not stop trying to create the next big thing.

- Hannah

The DeVries article on mobile telephony provided some insight into how these forms of technology brought people together in terms of “we-ness”. The radio gives us a feeling of closeness because the audience is able to relate to talk show hosts, who discuss current events and personal stories in an informal manner. The television builds upon the previous technology to give us information in the form of visuals and allows us to enter a world from the comfort of our home.

The television gives us a chance to see things present in other parts of the world, as well as places we can only dream of. Since the same network can be seen by others within the global network, we become closer through understanding similar information being presented to us. Afterwards, we are free to discuss matters with others face-to-face or by digital means, which brings us closer together from seeing or hearing the same broadcast. For example, I can discuss yesterday’s “Walking Dead” episode with my buddies the next day.


It was really interesting to see the progress of the modes of communication in the world. Started off with the telegraph then the telephone and other types of media that would spread messages faster over a wide range such as the radio and the TV. We have gone through so much advancement in terms of communication and the physical attributes of each technology has evolved drastically. From huge bulky brick into a slim touch screen phone. Or the speed of communication within seconds or even without the need to rely on a mediator/ operator to connect calls or interpret Morse codes. Therefore I was wondering if younger generation these days believe that some younger generations would not know how older technologies look like. So i watched a youtube video regarding on how kids react to a rotary phone. They were astounded on how it looked like and some of them did not know how to use it or know what busy tone sounds like.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkuirEweZvM
Therefore, i found it really fascinating that technology has come so far, that it is now so simple to use and it is really efficient. Even a kid knows how to use it. I wonder what it would be like in the future... Maybe at out finger tips next time?

My favorite piece of the three was the DeVries reading. The proposed idea of an “intrinsic human desire to bridge all chasms by realising angelic communication” isn't one I necessarily buy into, and I don't know if De Vries had an opinion one way or the other, but it is an interesting and convincing proposition. I liked the concept of remediation: improving or replacing old media to jive with the “ideal” form of communication and how that's the driving force behind the development of communication technologies (well, that and cutthroat business practices). Toward the end of the he rephrased the remediation definition, writing about how the desire for the ideal mode of communication eventually runs into the limitations of the device delivering contemporary communication and that the realization that the thing doesn't quite pass muster is what drives development of new technologies. I might be wrong, but the tone of that felt negative. I wonder if that's a common reaction to the described scenario. I hope not, because that basically describes a reason to live for me. Although I'm a proponent of tinkering for tinkering's sake, with the realization of idealized [whatever] being just a happy coincidence and not as the main purpose, I can't really imagine an enjoyable life that doesn't involve pushing at boundaries.

The standout part of the Standage article was his mention of 1845-era telegraphy being a “scarecrow and chimera,” and its subsequent open-armed adoption by basically everyone just a short time later. It makes me wonder what things we take exception to or write off as silly that has vast potential today. Even older technologies written off as silly could turn out to be not so stupid after all. I'm thinking back, again, to the De Vries article. I think it was Hirsch that he referenced while discussing the short-lived idea that brain waves, being not so very different from radio waves, could be used in a similar way to transmit signals. Two years ago, Stephen Hawking was presented with a chip that he wears near his head that uses his brainwaves to relay commands to his computer and wheelchair. Hirsch was maybe just 80 years ahead of his time.


The progress with radio and television is pretty obvious to see after reading the articles. Growing up in today's generation television and radio seem like a regular part of our lives, but I don't think we really think about all of the steps we have taken to get here. Listening to the radio is a great way of getting news updates, sports updates, weather etc. The progress made is what allows us to do that and really gives us an opportunity to discuss topics that are important in the present day. Considering the lack of technological advancement back when radio and televisions were first introduced it really makes you wonder where the communication level was at initially?

The telephone, the radio, and the television, are the media evolution, just like DeVries says in his article. However, I believe they all have a sense of empowerment but the strongest is the telephone. Verbal communication transitioned from sending mail to having a device next to your ear to pass information on. I can’t imagine myself living before the invention of telephones because of how long it would’ve took to get in touch with someone who lives at a far distance. Nevertheless, everything has its downside. People won’t strive to meet face-to-face anymore because whatever they want to say can be simply said over the phone. The radio was and still is a great invention. Personally, I’ve understood that we judge someone mostly based on the way they speak when you’re listening to the radio because we can’t see who they are. When I drive my car in the morning and listen to the radio, I wonder what the speakers look like in person so in some sense, I create a character in my head as if I was reading a book, which makes it more appealing to me.


Hey honey, don't use the telegraph tonight. The NSA might be monitoring it. Oh NSA, too easy to bring that up nowadays with technology. These were some very interesting and entertaining readings. Communication is a huge piece of technology. Normally when we think about the development of technology, people tend to forget that a cell phone is a communication tool, people forget about the telegraph. There will be a point in history when people will have no idea what the heck a telegraph is, or even bother looking into it. History is rich but at the pace technology is moving in, I don't think that people will care all that much about the development of communication.

In regards to the transferring "info" from point A to point B is interesting. I read the word pigeon on Vries piece and immediately thought about Africa. There is company in Africa that runs a communication channel and they use birds to transport data on flash cards to the other party. Why? Well, the access to bandwidth and internet connection is not that heavy in parts of Africa. I remember this and started laughing because my friend moved back to Somalia and complained about the internet connection all the time.

Lets get really creepy and foreshadow into the future for a bit. I like thinking about different ways communication is going to be different in the future. I think that we will be able to subscribe to our own listings of information to be able to listen to live feed in our ears at all times. TV's won't exist anymore. You will be able to buy a home that has an entire wall dedicated to a screen.

In regards to calling people and such, you can summon a person from your directory and just tell your brain to call that person. Man I should write a book about future technology developments.

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This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on March 26, 2014 11:38 AM.

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