Tag Archives: history of science

The Victorian Internet

I’ve been reading Tom Standage‘s book on the history of the telegraph this week. It is a fascinating read – Standage is totally accessible and every bit as brilliant as he gives the impression of being (he’s business editor at The Economist so I speak to him occasionally as part of my day job). Tom P and Matt made the point when they saw me with the book that it should be very short – simply reading “there wasn’t one” – but the parallels Standage draws to today’s Internet and some of the fantastic quotes he draws from makes it entertaining reading**.

A choice sample, James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, writing around 1840:

“The telegraph may not affect magazine literature… but the mere newspapers must submit to destiny, and go out of existence.”

A conversation (and a destiny) that is very much going on today.

There’s another quote in there that I can’t find at the moment but talks about how the telegraph made it seem as it you were in the same room as the person you were talking to — which I found particularly amusing given that I spend quite a bit of time talking to journalists about how my client Cisco’s TelePresence achieves the same effect in ever-so-slightly higher definition…

Anyway, it’s an interesting read, and occasionally pops up cheap on Amazon.

** I admit freely that part of this fascination with all this may derive in part from the fact that I studied the History of Science at university and spend a increasingly large proportion of my time talking about the Internet’s impact on communications / news dissemination.