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The Victorian Internet Book Review

Updated on August 16, 2014

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage is the story of the telegraph, and it's the kind of book you might not know you want to read until you've started reading it. At least, that's how it was for me!

I was a reluctant reader having to read this book for a class. Before the class, I'd never heard of this book or pondered that the Victorians might have anything resembling an internet.

What they did have in the 19th century was the telegraph and the book paints a nice picture of a place and time where a new technology changed people's lives (mostly) for the better.

Telegraph Operators

One thing I found fascinating about this book was reading about the telegraph operators. You'd think it would be a boring job relaying other peoples' messages but it might have been one of the most exciting careers of the day!

The telegraph operators are the ones who got to have the most "internet-like" experience with the telegraph because operators in different locations who had never met physically had conversations amongst themselves, with some becoming friends. This is not too unlike strangers talking on the internet these days.

The real interesting part is that that there were some operators who fell in love over the telegraph (note: there were women telegraph operators, too). The falling in love part really screams "internet" to me as you hear of people falling in love on the internet all the time (I'm not saying it's a wise thing to do though).

How Everyone Benefited from the Telegraph

Regular everyday people were not normally chatting and falling in love with "strangers" over the telegraph like the operators did since you had to pay for each message you sent based on the length of it. You probably already know the telegraph could help regular people (if they could afford it) communicate brief and important personal/family news to friends and loved ones faster than sending a letter through the postal mail. That is what I thought the telegraph was mainly about before reading this book.

What I got from the book was the biggest role the telegraph played for everyone in the 19th century was getting news faster. Back in pre-telegraph times, people had a much slower pace of life with news travelling very slowly. While you could get the local news sort of fast then, it might take weeks to hear news from other parts of the world.... if you were lucky. The telegraph helped news travel MUCH faster and it helped people become part of a global community since global news wouldn't be "old news" by the time they got it.

Business and the Telegraph

It's important to note that businesses used the telegraph too. Some businesses would lease private lines so they could send telegraphs without having to pay for each one. Communicating this way helped big businesses become big business as the telegraph helped big organizations be controlled from a central location.

So the telegraph made big business possible, you might wonder how is that like the internet? Well, the internet helped some businesses become possible that wouldn't have been thought of without it like eBay and Squidoo, etc. (I just had to fit Squidoo in there.... but I'm sure you can think of a few businesses that the internet made possible, like one that starts with a "G" maybe?)

I Recommend this Book!

I have only scratched the surface a little here, but I recommend reading this book. It opened my eyes to the importance of this "old" technology and I can get how new and exciting it was at one time. Reading this book has made me want to read more books about old technologies, and perhaps new ones too.

Here are a few books on my "To Read" list. I am actually reading the first one right now.

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

This is the book I'm reading now, and am waiting to get to the meatier parts about the computer. So far it has talked about codes like braille and morse code.

Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web
Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web

I know the basics about the history of the web, but I find it fascinating and want to learn more and read the book by the "creator" of the web himself.

Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio
Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio

Reading about the history of radio technology sounds like it may be every bit as fascinating as reading about the telegraph. I still listen to the radio quite a bit myself despite having newer technologies around (albeit, sometimes I listen to radio stations over the computer)


What do you think of The Victorian Internet?

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