Living in the 21st century, with all the technological marvels that fit inside our pockets, it is often easy to forget those who came before us. But long before the Internet, people were communicating almost instantaneously across oceans and continents. Before match.com, they were falling in love over a wire. Before Facebook, they were reaching out to new people. Before Reddit, they were bashing their peers. Before twitter, they were trolling.
In this short (256 pp.), fun and informative volume Tom Standage, Digital Editor at The Economist, walks us through the Odyssey that was the invention, adoption and proliferation of the telegraph and its earliest adopters – our On-line Pioneers. From French abbe Jean-Antoine Nollet’s primitive experiments with wire conductivity and the distance electricity could travel, to Samuel F.B. Morse’s invention of a non-spoken language to communicate via that wire, he takes us through the technological leaps and bounds that ultimately made the telegraph (and later all manner of telecommunications including the Internet) possible.
Standage demonstrates how this one simple invention brought the world closer together than at any time in human history either before or since. He discusses public policy and the U.S. Congressional debates on whether or not to fund the infrastructure for this technology. He addresses the societal concerns and foreign policy considerations that arose from this new-found ability to rapidly communicate internationally.
To call the telegraph “ground breaking” and “game changing” is an understatement. We owe so much of how we live our lives today to this amazing technology. We should know more about it. So this weekend unplug and go old school. Get back to your roots. Then tweet about it! And Monday morning you’ll have a great water cooler story to tell. Happy reading!