Suggested Reading: The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
A few months ago I finished reading through The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage. The book is a collection of contextualized stories that collectively (and convincingly!) present a historical analogy of the era of the telegraph as functionally equivalent to the modern–day internet; in the context of a technological revolution providing ‘a capability that was not there before,’ the internet isn’t much of a revolution (or, at least yet).
Bear in mind that the telegraph was invented sometime in the 1830’s, about 40 years before biologists first noticed the effects of penicillin and about 100 years before its discovery by Alexander Fleming.
There’s a number of interesting insights that deserve further exploration (ownership of transmission lines, key changes in overall world development, use of encryption and wiretapping, social mobility, etc.). But there’s a particular story worth sharing, reproduced below.
Chapter 8, Love Over The Wires, opens thusly:
“…within a few months of the electric telegraph being opened to the public, it was being used for something that even the most farsighted of telegraph advocates had never dared to imagine: to conduct an on-line wedding.
The bride was in Boston, and the groom in New York; the exact date is unknown, but the story of the wedding was common currency by the time a small book, Anecdotes of the Telegraph, was published in London in 1848. It was described as “a story which throws into the shade all the feats that have been performed by our British telegraph.”
The daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant had fallen in love with Mr. B., a clerk in her father’s countinghouse. Although her father had promised her hand to someone else, she decided to disregard his intentions and marry Mr. B. instead. When her father found out, he put the young man on a ship and sent him away on business to England.
The ship made a stopover in New York, where the young woman sent her intended a message, asking him to present himself at the telegraph office with a magistrate at an agreed–upon time. At the appointed hour she was at the other end of the wire in the Boston telegraph office…
[…merging storylines, but both have happy endings…]
At the appropriate point in the service the bride and groom tapped on the telegraph key to indicate a solemn “I do.” Once the service was over, messages of congratulations flooded in from all the stations on the line. The groom was for many years afterward greeted by fellow telegraph operators, who, upon hearing his name, exclaimed that they had been present at his wedding.”
There are a number of really touching stories along these lines.
Telegraph key and sounder. ©2009 by John Schanlaub. Published and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic copyright license.