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The Victorian Internet [Paperback]

Tom Standage
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 1999
Beginning with the Abbe Nollet's famous experiment of 1746, when he successfully demonstrated that electricity could pass from one end to the other of a chain of two hundred monks, Tom Standage tells the story of the spread of the telegraph and its transformation of the Victorian world. The telegraph was greeted by all the same concerns, hype, social panic and excitement that now surround the Internet, and Standage provides both a fascinating insight into the past and a context in which to think rather differently of today's concerns. Standage has a wonderful prose style and an excellent eye for the telling and engaging story. Popular history at its best.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (1 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753807033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753807033
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 466,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Imagine an almost instantaneous communication system that would allow people and governments all over the world to send and receive messages about politics, war, illness and family events. The US Government has tried and failed to control it and its revolutionary nature is trumpeted loudly by its backers. The Internet? Nope, the humble telegraph fit this bill way back in the 1800s. The parallels between the now-ubiquitous Internet and the telegraph are amazing, offering insight into the ways new technologies can change the very fabric of society within a single generation. In The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage examines the history of the telegraph, beginning with a horrifically funny story of a mile-long line of monks holding a wire and getting simultaneous shocks in the interest of investigating electricity and ending with the advent of the telephone. All the early "online" pioneers are here: Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison and a seemingly endless parade of code-makers, entrepreneurs and spies who helped ensure the success of this communications revolution. Fans of Longitude will enjoy another story of the human side of dramatic technological developments, complete with personal rivalry, vicious competition and agonising failures. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

Book Description

The history of the telegraph - the men and women who made it - and its relevance to the current Internet debate

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Past and future 23 Nov 2005
The title of this book, 'The Victorian Internet,' refers to the 'communications explosion' that took place with the advent and expansion of telegraph wire communications. Prior to this, communication was notoriously slow, particularly as even postal communications were subject to many difficulties and could take months for delivery (and we complain today of the 'allow five days' statements on our credit cards billings!).
The parallels between the Victorian Internet and the present computerised internet are remarkable. Information about current events became relatively instantaneous (relative, that is, to the usual weeks or months that it once took to receive such information). There were skeptics who were convinced that this new mode of communication was a passing phase that would never take on (and, in a strict sense, they were right, not of course realising that the demise of the telegraph system was not due to the reinvigoration of written correspondence but due to that new invention, the telephone). There were hackers, people who tried to disrupt communications, those who tried to get on-line free illegally, and, near the end of the high age of telegraphing, a noticeable slow-down in information due to information overload (how long is this page going to take to download?? isn't such a new feeling after all).
The most interesting chapter to me is that entitled 'Love over the Wires' which begins with an account of an on-line wedding, with the bride in Boston and the groom in New York. This event was reported in a small book, Anecdotes of the Telegraph, published in London in 1848, which stated that this was 'a story which throws into the shade all the feats that have been performed by our British telegraph.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, amusing, lacks financial dimension 28 Aug 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this diverting book, which covers the technical development and social impact of telegraphic communication. The author has taken the trouble to go back to the early, optical and phonetic systems which preceded and paved the way for the better-known electrical devices.
One dimension however which is missing is the financial one: how did investors in early telegraphy fare? Even where telegraphy was monopolized by the state, in Europe, it would have been interesting to hear about the growth and decline of telegraphic equipment suppliers. This would have nicely rounded out the comparison with the recent Internet "boom-and-bust".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining historical perspective 6 May 2002
By A Customer
We often tend to view our own time not only as the peak of the development, but by far surpassing achievements of the past. This entertaining book puts the internet into perspective by telling the story of the very first digital transmission system, the telegraph. It is amazing to discover how similar people reacted to technical change in the 19th century compared to the late 20th. A very refreshing historical perspective. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Puts modern communication into perspective 8 Jun 1999
By A Customer
A fascinating book that explodes the theory that we are in a period of communication innovation. If you thought 'netiquette', 'flaming' and 'newbies' were a new concept then you really should read The Victorian Internet. The Victorians have really 'been there, done that' and surely we have lessons to learn from them. As Standage summarises - Victorians viewing the late 20th century would be quite unimpressed with the Internet as many of its 'innovations' were around when the telegraph system was at it's height. Entertaining and informative.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Victorian Internet is a wonderful book - I absolutely recommend it to anyone with the remotest interest in how science has shaped out world. It describes the emergence of a technology which is hailed at its outset as "shrinking the world" and able to "connect distant parts of the world instantly" - sound familiar ?
But this is the fascinating tale of Telegraphy - which - incredibly - pre-dates electricity itself, having begun in Napoleon's time as a mechanical way of signalling from hilltop tower to hilltop tower - for wartime messaging. Electricity of course made it "fly", and the tale is told rivetingly, with intruiguiing comparisons between the telegraph of a century ago and the internet of today. All the same human issues are there - down-the-wire romances between operators - hackers - and amazing technological misunderstanding (like the mother who took a plate of fresh food to a telegraph office, in the hope of sending it down the wire to her son, who was fighting at the front in the Crimea). Amazing - and a perfect Christmas present for every Net-Head, too. Well done Tom Standage.
Mike Holt
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