Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Utterly fascinating history of the invention, development, spread, ubiquitous use, and decline of the telegraph. The Victorian Internet is a very important global read - this invention was truly one of the most important our species has ever created. The phone, fax, internet, and satellite systems were all just continuations of this idea. A connected planet, exchanging information in real-time. Standage, just as in his "A History of the World in Six Glasses," manages to communicate a subject that could be convoluted, dry, and inaccessible in an extremely clear and entertaining fashion. Couldn't put it down.
Quick notes - because an in-depth summary would be silly for a book of this nature:
Samuel Morse essentially invents the electric telegraph (after the French and the British try to make use of the optical telegraph - which is essentially an elaborate windmill whose arms you can manipulate). He manages to invent Morse Code at the same time.
He has the darndest time getting anyone to think it's anything more useful than a funny trick.
Thomas Edison not only invented the lightbulb, but he got his start running messages back and forth in complex telegraph stations (as did Andrew Carnegie), became an excellent Morse Code operator, and then revolutionized the existing technology behind the telegraph. Smart guy.
It took a lot of false starts to lay down the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, but the process essentially involved dumping miles and miles of reinforced cable out of a boat and chugging to the other side.
Because you paid by the word, people developed elaborate code systems to communicate by long nonsense words that required a codebook to translate.