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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Past and future...
The title of this book, 'The Victorian Internet,' refers to the 'communications explosion' that took place with the advent and expansion of telegraph wire communications. Prior to this, communication was notoriously slow, particularly as even postal communications were subject to many difficulties and could take months for delivery (and we complain today of the 'allow...
Published on May 29, 2003 by FrKurt Messick

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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been a great story.
The author missed what could have been a great story in this journalistic (in the worst sense of the word) story of this fascinating invention. The hook which attempts to link the telegraph with the internet is a strained metaphor -- an attempt to make the book relevant.
Missed or lightly touched on is how the telegraphy truly changed the world -- how wars were...
Published on September 20, 2002 by R. Blumer


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Past and future..., May 29, 2003
The title of this book, 'The Victorian Internet,' refers to the 'communications explosion' that took place with the advent and expansion of telegraph wire communications. Prior to this, communication was notoriously slow, particularly as even postal communications were subject to many difficulties and could take months for delivery (and we complain today of the 'allow five days' statements on our credit cards billings!).
The parallels between the Victorian Internet and the present computerised internet are remarkable. Information about current events became relatively instantaneous (relative, that is, to the usual weeks or months that it once took to receive such information). There were skeptics who were convinced that this new mode of communication was a passing phase that would never take on (and, in a strict sense, they were right, not of course realising that the demise of the telegraph system was not due to the reinvigoration of written correspondence but due to that new invention, the telephone). There were hackers, people who tried to disrupt communications, those who tried to get on-line free illegally, and, near the end of the high age of telegraphing, a noticeable slow-down in information due to information overload (how long is this page going to take to download?? isn't such a new feeling after all).
The most interesting chapter to me is that entitled 'Love over the Wires' which begins with an account of an on-line wedding, with the bride in Boston and the groom in New York. This event was reported in a small book, Anecdotes of the Telegraph, published in London in 1848, which stated that this was 'a story which throws into the shade all the feats that have been performed by our British telegraph.' This story is really one of love and adventure, as the bride's father had sent the young groom away for being unworthy to marry his daughter, but on a stop-over on his way to England, he managed to get a magistrate and telegraph operator to arrange the wedding. The marriage was deemed to be legally binding.
A very interesting and remarkable story that perhaps would have been forgotten by history had history not set out to repeat itself with our modern internet.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars two hours of fun, fun, fun, April 7, 2001
By 
Philip Greenspun (Cambridge, MA USA) - See all my reviews
In the story of the world-wide telegraph system, built from the 1840s until 1900 when the telephone rose to supplant it, Standage develops fascinating parallels with the rise of the Internet. Western Union "insisted that its monopoly [on US telegraphy] was in everyone's interest, even if it was unpopular, because it would encourage standardization." Today's high-pressure startups have nothing on Thomas Edison who "locked his workforce in the workshop until they had finished building a large order of stock tickers." As with the Web, the true inventor, Samuel Morse, made "a respectable sum, though less than the fortunes amassed by the entrepreneurs who built empires on the back of his invention." Standage pairs modern pundits such as Nicholas Negroponte predicting that the Internet will bring about world peace with their 19th century equivalents predicting that the telegraph will enable a perfect understanding between governments and peoples and bring an end to wars. If you made big bucks in the dotcom world of the 1990s, page 205 may cause you a moment's reflection:
"The heyday of the telegrapher as a highly paid, highly skilled information worker was over; telegraphers' brief tenure as members of an elite community with master over a miraculous, cutting-edge technology had come to an end. As the twentieth century dawned, the telegraph's inventors had died, its community had crumbled, and its golden age had ended."
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book and a fun book, September 9, 2007
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I have written three books on Wireless networking and am about to start writing a fourth. Coming from this perspective, The Victorian Internet was both an excellent read and an enlightening one. It is true that we can get caught up in any new thing and think that it is going to drastically alter the world. Of course, those of use directly implementing the new thing always think it will alter teh world for the better. This book shines a light of reality on this thinking to make you realize that a new technology alone is not likely to save the world, though it can make it an easier place for many to live.

Many reviewers have stated their favorite story, so I will share mine. It's the opening story of the book. It begins, "On an April day in 1746 at the grand convent of the Carthusians in Paris, about two hundred monks arranged themselves in a long, snaking line. Each monk held on end of a twenty-five-foot iron wire in each hand, connecting him to his neighbor on either side. Together, the monks and their connecting wires formed a line over a mile long."

The story goes on to reveal that Jean-Antoine Nollet induced a shock onto the wire to see if the monks would feel the shock at the same moment and indeed they did. This revealed to Nollet that electricity traveled at an extremely rapid speed and began the turning of the gears that led to electrical impulse-based communications (which we still use today in Ethernet and Wireless).

This book is filled with such stories and will certainly both entertain and inform you.

Tom Carpenter, Author: Wireless# Certificiation Official Study Guide
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short book on a fantastic breakthrough, February 11, 2005
By 
The Don Wood Files (Fredericksburg, VA) - See all my reviews
Standage largely succeeds in supporting his claim that Victorians returning to 21st century Earth through a time-travel machine would not be overly impressed with our Internet, because "they had one of their own." His short book - easily read in one sitting or a cross-country airline trip - covers the birth of the optical telegraph (a French invention that used the waving wooden arms atop a tower) through its electrification, the invention of Morse code, and to its decline with the invention of the telephone. He shows that the telegraph, like the Internet, spawned codes, hackers, criminal gangs, romance, and information overload. And the telegraph was greeted with the same overheated claims as the Internet that faster and easier communication among peoples would usher in World Peace.

Unfortunately, Standage's book ends abruptly in the 1880s, when the telephone began to replace the telegraph. "Telegrams" still flourished in the 20th century, and Morse Code is still used today by amateur radio operators. A few pages at the end of Standage's tale about the remaining echo from that wonderous 19th century device would have made a more complete book.

Even so, if you want to learn about how an amateur inventor - Samuel Morse - became inspired to invent this simple device, and how was resisted initially and then changed the world, then this is a good place to start.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Repeats Itself, October 7, 2003
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Tom Standage is onto something. It seems that everything we know about the Internet today, we've already done before. The turn of this century was a lot like the turn of the last century.
"The Victorian Internet" is all about our world and the invention of the Telegraph. As cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson once pointed out, the telegraph was the world's first global digital network. It's when we started trying to push voice down the copper lines that we mucked things up.
In this book, you'll find technological wizardry, geek pioneers, global aspirations, long-distance romances, and online scams. You'll discover what 19th-Century chat was like. There are growing pains. We see fear for the future and fear of moral decline. The Telegraph represented a sudden, massive interconnection of people thousands of miles apart, and the effects of this overnight deluge of information is clear in reading. You have to remember that these were people used to feeling safe in their own homes, blissfully unaware of each other, and only vaguely informed of events going on in other countries.
Standage does a nice job of hitting on the hottest topics of our time, without hitting the reader over the head to make a point. Cybergeeks will love his stops at Cryptography, code, and the other programming-like solutions people came up with to solve their problems. Fans of history will be amused by the parallels between life then and now as "old media" learns to stop worrying and embrace "new media".
In a narrative style that resembles the British TV series "Connections", Standage shows us what each side of the Atlantic was up to, the race to connect the world, and the sheer determination and boundless optimism that made it all happen. There are also interesting tidbits along the way: we get facts about Samuel Morse and Thomas Edison that most history books ignore. There are anecdotes from 19th-century daily life that we can easily identify with today. All of it combines in a way that is easy to read, decently-paced, and fun to think about and discuss with others.
I give this book 5 stars for being clever with presentation and for keeping the various threads together without seeming fragmented. Tom Standage moves us through history without jumping around, and references earlier sections to remind us of where things are going. If you like history, technology, or even the geekier topics of machine logic, programming, and cryptography, this book makes an excellent read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book shows how history does, at times, repeats itself., April 27, 1999
Review of "The Victorian Internet"
A terrific melding of the effects of the Telegraph and the Internet on the societies they served. A Comparison of the Telegraph and the Internet is not a subject one is normally prompted to consider and this is one reason that makes Tom Standage's account of the far reaching effects of these two medium of communication on their times is all the more enjoyable.
On first consideration one is prompted to ask"how can two technical achievements so far removed in time and technology possibly be compared".? But Standage answers the question superbly ,and gives the reader damn good read in the process.
Not only are the Telegraph and the Internet compared but we gat a good history of man's struggle to improve the speed by which information is Transmitted. From the Foot Messenger to the Telegraph and the Internet , including all the weird and wonderful attempts in between , the reader is taken, painlessly, on a trip through the history of Information Transmission
This is a great book and should be read both for enjoyment and for a close look at how history seems to, at times anyway, repeat itself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From the Applied Science Sketchbook, but ..., February 8, 2004
... Can You be Sure it's True?
Standage does for the telegraph what the "How and Why Wonder Books" used to do: outline the history and science of a topic in a basic yet interesting format (though their illustrations were superior). The pitfalls are the same too: my How and Why Wonder Book of Space Travel told me that an aerospace engineer was called a "celestial mechanic", and I believed it. It took me years to discover that it sounded more like a job description for the Supreme Being ... Standage says the telegraph first saw the light of day as an optical device constructed by French inventors in 1791, later adopted by the Admiralty in England and by the French state. I wonder what English forces, who used the various Beacons from the fourteenth century on to signal to troops details of the threat of invaders, and the Romans, and probably Iron Age people before them, would make of this claim ... nothing new under the sun, perhaps. See entries in Geoffrey Grigson's "The Shell Country Alphabet" (1966) for more about beacons and signal stations. "The Timetables of Science" complied by Hellemans and Bunch, published in the US by Simon & Schuster (1988) has an "optical telegraph using torches to signal from hilltop to hilltop" operating in Greece before 421 BC.
... Is It Missing the Point?
More seriously, Standage ignores the most important, economic factor in his comparison between the telegraph and the internet. He quite rightly points out that the use of the telegraph raised concerns about privacy (Chapter 7), since even the automated versions involved some transcription by humans. The fact that unlike the telegraph, there is no human intervention necessary to communicate privately via the Internet, neither via email nor via web site and in chat room, has been a major factor in the growth of the single most important economic driver of the internet, pornography. This is a business now estimated to be of the same economic order of magnitude worldwide as the automobile industry. The difference between internet and telegraph in arrangements for privacy is crucial to differences in their growth and influence; the development of other technology such as webcams and streaming video amplifies it. Yet Standage has a clue in his own narrative; he quotes Edison in Chapter 8 to the effect that the private on-line chat between telegraph operators (rather than the paid-for messages) was frequently "smutty or anatomically explicit".
Nevertheless, it's an informative and fascinating sketch of how technology and communication combine in ways new yet strangely familiar. The differences as well as the similarities need to be understood.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I really liked it, July 4, 2003
I really enjoyed this book. If you're looking for an in-depth study of the science behind the telegraph or a statistical sociological study, however, this is not the book for you.
This book really glosses over the technical side in a bare-bones manner. For example, the book states that telegraphy over long distances requires a series of small batteries working together instead of one large battery, and leaves it at that. No explanation as to why this is the case is provided. As the title suggests, the goal of this book is to draw parallels between today's Internet and yesterday's telegraph. Since the parallels are more in the area of societal effects, not technologies, the technologies are naturally de-emphasized.
As a college professor, I think this book will be a perfect one to use in my Technology in Our Lives course. Now, don't let that comment scare you. I don't mean to suggest that this is an academic treatise on the telegraph's societal impacts. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a very engaging book that would hold the interest of readers of all types. It reads almost like "historical fiction," but it's not fiction, of course.
The book takes a "breadth over depth" approach to its subject, and yet contains a lot of details. Although I knew how the telegraph, especially once the Atlantic was crossed with a telegraph wire, changed commerce and the news industry, I had no real idea of the online games and online romances that occurred over the telegraph wires all over the world. The parallels with the modern Internet are fascinating.
As I said, I really enjoyed this book and plan to use it in one of my classes. Go into this book with your eyes open, however, knowing what the book's goal and thesis are. If you're looking for detailed information on the science and technology of the telegraph, or an in-depth, statistical sociological study, this is not the book for you. If, on the other hand, you wish to be exposed to series of parallels between the Internet's and the telegraph's impacts on culture and society, this is an engaging book that will fulfill that desire.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening antidote to chronocentricity, April 18, 2010
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This review is from: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers (Paperback)
Tom Standage mentions chronocentricity on p 213 as "the egotism that one's own generation is poised on the very cusp of history." Comparing modern times to the past, he says "if any generation has the right to claim that it bore the full bewildering, world-shrinking brunt of such a revolution, it is not us -- it is our nineteenth-century forbears." Commentator Gary Hoover defines chronocentricity as being "obsessed with our own era, considering it the most important or most dynamic time ever." Being a history major, I find The Victorian Internet (TVI) to be an enlightening antidote to chronocentricity, and I recommend it to anyone trying to better understand modern times through the lens of history.

In TVI, readers will encounter themes very familiar to those involved with the latest telecommunications revolution: using communications to catch criminals; concerns with privacy, and an inability to identify users; application of codes and encryption to foil thieves and governments, if possible; corruption affecting various aspects of the system; heavy reliance by the financial industry; operator jargon; dealing with load and congestion; transmission errors causing financial problems; users not understanding technology; technology staying ahead of the law; and governments intercepting, copying, and analyzing transmissions.

Probably one of the most interesting themes in the book involved expectations that improved communications would lead to world peace. While reading the book a student asked me if the rise of Web 2.0 and social networking sites would result in increased understanding among those of different faiths, hopefully leading to a more peaceful world. At the very least, after reading a book like TVI, I can say the Victorian Internet didn't result in world peace.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been a great story., September 20, 2002
By 
R. Blumer (NEW YORK, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The author missed what could have been a great story in this journalistic (in the worst sense of the word) story of this fascinating invention. The hook which attempts to link the telegraph with the internet is a strained metaphor -- an attempt to make the book relevant.
Missed or lightly touched on is how the telegraphy truly changed the world -- how wars were fought, how business is conducted. Instead we get a lot of the fluffy stories of people getting married by telegraph etc.
Also glossed over are any real technical details about how the various gadgets worked. The author obviously doesn't know the difference between a volt and jolt and assumes the readers are equally ignorant.
Pity because the relationship between invention and history is a great story and the telegraph is a great way of telling this story. This book just skims the surface.
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The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers
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