Rags of Light

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I enjoyed Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet, a short, engaging history of the development and explosive growth of the electric telegraph system in the 1800s.

It’s almost impossible to picture what the world was like before near-instantaneous communication over great distances was even thought of. Commerce, warfare, news and everyday life changed dramatically when telegraphy came on the scene. It was a shift to a new worldview, our own, where media like the internet and the phone seem like basic necessities.

Romantic excitement about new media is nothing new: when the telegraph first went international with the laying of undersea cables, there were rapturous declarations that world peace would soon follow. We know how that went. Fast-forward to 1997, when the head of MIT’s Media Lab said that the Internet would usher in a world where children “are not going to know what nationalism is.”

If only.