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The Victorian Internet Introduct

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					SLIS 5712.001                                                                  S. Joy Aswalap
Dr. Florence Mason                                                           October 20, 2000

                                  The Victorian Internet
                                        By Tom Standage

Introduction

        “During Queen Victoria’s reign, a new communications technology was

developed that allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great

distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before. A

worldwide communications network whose cables spanned continents and

oceans, it revolutionized business practice, gave rise to new forms of crime, and inundated its

users with a deluge of information. Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codes were

devised by some users and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly

hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the skeptics. Governments and regulators tried and

failed to control the new medium. Attitudes toward everything from newsgathering to diplomacy

had to be completely rethought. Meanwhile, out on the wires, a technological subculture with its

own customs and vocabulary was establishing itself.” (The Victorian Internet, Standage, 1998)

       Historical events of the innovation and the adoption of the telegraph – the Internet of the

Victorian Age have demonstrated close parallels in many respects to today’s Internet. A closer

look in historical events and impacts of technology is hoped to help one understand impacts of

current technology innovation and to manage change.

The Telegraph – A Technology Innovation

              “Diffusion is the process by which (1) An Innovation (2) Is Communicated Through
                     Certain Channels (3) Over Time (4) Among the Members of Social System.”
                                                    (Rogers, E.M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations)

Diffusion of the Optical Telegraph

       A French scholar suggested the name telegraphe, or “far writer” for an optical telegraph

system in 1791. Invented by Claude Chappe and his brother the sign system used black-and-

white panels, clocks, telescopes and codebooks to send a message. A few years later, the system
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                         Aswalap, p. 2


was redesigned and another noted French artisan built a control device. The combined result was

a “dominant design” - a set of convention specifying the basic pattern or configuration of a

technical system (Anderson, 1998), the Chappe-style optical telegraph (Figure 1).




                                            Figure 1
        The Chappe-style telegraph networks was rapidly expanded during Napoleon Bonapart’s

seize of power. Other European countries recognized the military value of the telegraph had

quickly copied Chappe’s design or adopted its variations. In Britain, telegraph towers were fast

constructed to facilitate communication between London and the coast ports during the war

years. Figure 2 shows telegraph variations of British design. The lines of telegraph towers were

soon visible all over Europe.




                                            Figure 2
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                            Aswalap, p. 3


Diffusion of the Electric Telegraph

        Telegraph is a communications system that transmits and receives signals in accordance

with a code of electrical pulses (The Encarta, 1998). The history of the electric telegraph began

in 1600 when the word “electric”, meaning amber in Greek was coined (Lubrano, 1997).

American inventor Samuel F. B. Morse invented the first telegraphic electrical instruments in the

U.S. in 1837 and in Britain the same year by British physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone in

collaboration with British engineer Sir William F. Cooke (The Encarta, 1998).

        The adoption of the optical telegraphs was far easier than the electrical ones. Anyone

could easily gain knowledge how an optical telegraph worked – its arms or shutters set in various

positions, each of which could correspond to a different letter, word, or phrase. On the other

hand, it was far more difficult to comprehend a rattled wire or a strip of paper filling with dots

and dashes.

        To demonstrate the advantage of an electrical telegraph, a wire had to be constructed

between two destinations – the farther distance a wire was, the more useful the telegraph

became. To successfully implement a telegraph wire between two cities in the U.S., Morse – its

inventor, needed public funding and support. Embracing the role of the Technology Maestro

(McKinney, et al., 1995), Morse made several attempts to convince the U.S. Congress – the

CEO, who could drive the innovation with their power and prestige (McKinney, et al., 1995).

The system of dots and dashes and the advantage of instantaneous communication were

incomprehensible and unforeseen to a few members of the Congress.

        In 1844, Congress decided to implement the first U.S. telegraph line along an existing

railway between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The telegraph would be much more useful

with more stations in major cities. Investors were more optimistic and soon implemented another

telegraph line between New York and Philadelphia. In the six years between 1846 and 1852,
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                            Aswalap, p. 4


there were over 23,000 miles of line in the U.S. and 10,000 under construction - the U.S.

telegraphic network had expanded 600-fold.

Adopters and Applications

        The news industry was an early adopter of the telegraph. Before the invention of the

telegraph, news was carried on pigeons, horses, trains, boats or ships. On both sides of the

Atlantics, the New York Associated Press and Reuter had quickly adopted telegraph technology

and shortly dominated the business of selling news. Business, foreign news and war updates

were the most telegraphic news applications.

        In the original optical telegraphs, Napoleon rejected Chappe’s suggestion to use the

network to transmit stock market information. However, by the 1830s it was being used only for

that purpose. The electrical telegraph was also used to transmit confidential stock prices - usually

in encrypted forms. With the telegraphy’s ability to remove distance, it was misused to gain

privileged information for what was widely known in one place but not another – the result of a

horse racing was an example. Despite spies, criminals and code breakers heavy use of the

telegraph, lovers among war and peacemakers were never far behind.

        “At its very birth, the telegraph system became the handmaiden of commerce.” The

telegraph was used for conducting business internationally and around the clock. Businessmen

addicted to information supplied by the telegraph. In combination with the railways, which could

move goods quickly from one place to another, the rapidly supply of information dramatically

changed the way business was conducted.

The End of Telegraph Implementation

         When Queen Victoria’s reign ended in 1901, the telegraph’s greatest days were behind

it. Telegraph technology became a preceding technology for the evolution of the next technology

– the telephone that would eventually replace it. In the late 1880s, ten years after its invention,
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                          Aswalap, p. 5


the telephone was booming. By the turn of the nineteenth century, there were nearly 2 million

telephones in the U.S.

S-Shaped Curve Of Telegraphy Adoption

        An S-shaped curve represents the rate at

which a population adopts an innovation – the

diffusion rate over a period of time. In a given

curve, an adoption may begin slowly and soon rise

when more individuals make decision to adopt. The

rate declines eventually as fewer individuals in the

population are left to adopt the innovation

(Hargadon, 1998).

        Figure 2-4 Telegraph S-curve (Lubrano, 1997) shows the rate of telegraphy diffusion

over five decades. The sharp decline in 1883 and 1895 responded to general economic and

strikes against the telegraph company. The more permanent downturn came in 1902 when the

diffusion of the telephone took off.

        It should be noted that telegraphy technology from its inception in 1840s had undergone

“re-invention” where a user modified the innovation in the adoption and implementation process

through out its diffusion period (Rogers, 1995). In the 1840s, telegraph lines first sprung up on

the U.S. East coast. Twenty years later, it completely expanded across the U.S. continent linking

East and West. In 1866, international submarine telegraphy began when the transatlantic cable

was successfully implemented linking North America and Europe. As soon as the automatic

telegraph was introduced in the 1870s, it was promptly adopted. The increase of telegraph

network traffic and its commercial volume were fully supported by automatic machines that

could send and receive messages faster and more reliable than skilled operators.
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                           Aswalap, p. 6



Conclusion

        “The hype, skepticism, and bewilderment associated with the Internet – concerns about

new forms of crime, adjustments in social mores, and redefinition of business practices – mirror

the hopes, fears, and misunderstandings inspired by the telegraph. Indeed, they are only to be

expected. They are the direct consequences of human nature, rather than technology.” (The

Victorian Internet, Standage, 1998)

        Beniger (1986) says “all economic activity is by definition purposive, after all, and

requires control to maintain its various processes to achieve its goals.” He explains that “Because

control depends on information and informational activities, these will enter the market; as both

goods and services, in direct to an economy’s demand for control.”

        The telegraph was the first modern communication innovation that allowed human to

have control over information and its activities. To gain control over information is to gain

wealth. In the nineteenth century, the Victorians with the telegraph invention firstly actualized

this economic notion. A century later, today’s Internet has distinctly and pervasively echoed the

same notion.
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage                                                                                 Aswalap, p. 7




                                                             References

Anderson, Phillip. (1998) “Dominant Design.” The Technology Management Handbook.
Free Press, 1998, 3-49-53.

Beniger, James R., (1986). The Control Revolution, Harvard Business Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts

Hargadon, Andrew, (1998). “The Diffusion of Innovations”, The Technology
Management Handbook, The Free Press, New York.

Lubrano, Ann. (1997). The Telegraph, How Technology Innovation Caused Social
Change, Garland Publishing, New York.

McKinney, James L., Copeland, Duncan C., and Mason, Richard O. (1995). Waves of
Change, Harvard Business School Press, Massachusetts.

Rogers, Everett M., (1995) Diffusion of Innovation, Fourth Edition, The Free Press, New
York.

Standage, Tom, (1998). The Victorian Internet. Walker Publishing, New York.

The Encarta® 99 Desk Encyclopedia (1998), Microsoft Corporation.



                                                   TABLE OF CONTENT
The Victorian Internet ..................................................................................................................... 1
    Introduction............................................................................................................................. 1
    The Telegraph – A Technology Innovation............................................................................ 1
       Diffusion of the Optical Telegraph..................................................................................... 1
       Diffusion of the Electric Telegraph..................................................................................... 3
       Adopters and Applications.................................................................................................. 4
    The End of Telegraph Implementation................................................................................... 4
       S-Shaped Curve Of Telegraphy Adoption.......................................................................... 5
    Conclusion............................................................................................................................... 6
References ....................................................................................................................................... 7

				
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