- Hardcover: 227 pages
- Publisher: Walker & Co; 1 edition (October 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802713424
- ISBN-13: 978-0802713421
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 142 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers 1st Edition
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Imagine an almost instantaneous communication system that would allow people and governments all over the world to send and receive messages about politics, war, illness, and family events. The government has tried and failed to control it, and its revolutionary nature is trumpeted loudly by its backers. The Internet? Nope, the humble telegraph fit this bill way back in the 1800s. The parallels between the now-ubiquitous Internet and the telegraph are amazing, offering insight into the ways new technologies can change the very fabric of society within a single generation. In The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage examines the history of the telegraph, beginning with a horrifically funny story of a mile-long line of monks holding a wire and getting simultaneous shocks in the interest of investigating electricity, and ending with the advent of the telephone. All the early "online" pioneers are here: Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, and a seemingly endless parade of code-makers, entrepreneurs, and spies who helped ensure the success of this communications revolution. Fans of Longitude will enjoy another story of the human side of dramatic technological developments, complete with personal rivalry, vicious competition, and agonizing failures. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
A lively, short history of the development and rapid growth a century and a half ago of the first electronic network, the telegraph, Standage's book debut is also a cautionary tale in how new technologies inspire unrealistic hopes for universal understanding and peace, and then are themselves blamed when those hopes are disappointed. The telegraph developed almost simultaneously in America and Britain in the 1840s. Standage, a British journalist, effectively traces the different sources and false starts of an invention that had many claims on its patents. In 1842, Samuel F.B. Morse demonstrated a working telegraph between two committee rooms of the Capitol, and Congress reluctantly voted $30,000 for an experimental line to Baltimore?89 to 83, with 70 abstaining "to avoid the responsibility of spending the public money for a machine they could not understand." By 1850 there were 12,000 miles of telegraph line in the U.S., and twice that two years later. Standage does a good job sorting through a complicated and often contentious history, showing the dramatic changes the telegraph brought to how business was conducted, news was reported and humanity viewed its world. The parallels he draws to today's Internet are catchy, but they sometimes overshadow his portrayal of the unique culture and sense of excitement the telegraph engendered?what one contemporary poet called "the thrill electric." News of the first transatlantic cable in 1858 led to predictions of world peace and an end to old prejudices and hostilities. Soon enough, however, Standage reports, criminal guile, government misinformation and that old human sport of romance found their way onto the wires. 18 illustrations. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club alternates.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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For a cogent and fascinating comparison of the golden age of telegraphy with today's internet, the Victorian Internet nicely fills that niche.
While we marvel at the progress of our information networks in the past two decades - as we should - it is sometimes easy to forget that much of the same rhetoretoric and enthusiasm was shared more than 150 years earlier when the telegraph shrunk the world to a world-wide latency of minutes for any news or information. As such, the "Internet" has already been in existence for well over a century. Technology changed, latency improved by a constant factor, bandwidth improved by orders of magnitude, and the costs shrunk - yes, all true, but the basic structure is still the same.
Reading "Victorian Internet", it is easy to see that all one has to do is scrub out the word "telegraph" and replace it with the "world wide web", and you may as well be reading an article in your (online) newspaper.
Well organized book, with many great stories, facts, and research to keep you engaged throughout. If you're curious about the origins of the telegraph, and its evolution from a semaphore (visual telegraph) to backbone of all communication, then this is definitely "the book"!
P.S. Western Union discountined their telegraph business in 2002. Any bets on when we'll discontinue our TCP/IP routers? 2112?
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.