- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Berkley Trade (October 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0425171698
- ISBN-13: 978-0425171691
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 146 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,876,289 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
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
For a cogent and fascinating comparison of the golden age of telegraphy with today's internet, the Victorian Internet nicely fills that niche.
"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.
This book reminded me of his connection to telegraphy and made me realize both how much of modern life isn't really new--but also how recently the genuinely new stuff happened. In particular, it never occurred to me before reading this book how incredible a step it was in the nineteenth century to be able to send messages over wires. Literally nothing like it had ever occurred before.
And here we youngsters think that the internet is such a big deal. It is, of course, but the kinds of "revolutionary" characteristics we apply to it, actually had occurred before. The world seems smaller. Business can be transacted more efficiently. Romance is kindled. Both crime and crime prevention take on new aspects. Maybe world peace will be accomplished.
The book is a good narrative of what happened when telegraphy over long distances became possible. Its only shortcoming was that the descriptions of each device were too superficial. I would have liked to understand better how each one worked.
I do love the ironic note that ended the book: After the telegraph was replaced by telephones, and they were supplanted by the likes of worldwide Internet visual conferences, the new generation of youngsters are absolutely enamored with--get this!--how cool it is to be able to send text back and forth to each other! (Just this week I was talking to a colleague whose daughter refuses to speak by telephone. Anyone wanting to court her has to send a text message.)
After all, AT&T really is the American Telephone and Telegraph company.