Book: The Victorian Internet

Victorian Internet

I picked this book up from the library when I saw an extract that seemed to be describing the modern-day tendency towards online romance. Imagine my surprise to discover that the quote was actually referring to an online romance from the late 1800’s!

The “Victorian” of the title is not the state of Australia south of the Murray river, but refers to the time of Queen Victoria.

Indeed, the invention that originally made the world smaller, that changed the face of communication and trade forever was not the internet but the telegraph. When the telegraph was first launched, people viewed it with scepticism: was it a novelty, or worse yet a fraud?

But as the technology improved, it became a massive growth industry, worldwide. This book chronicles the lives of the inventors, the progress of the network, and the rise and fall of the skilled group of telegraph operators who were ultimately replaced with automated telegraph machines, and then – at the close of the book – the telephone.

Though the book doesn’t engage with the idea, I was interested to see the rise of “usability” of sorts – the idea that anyone should be able to use the wires to communicate, not just a highly trained operator.

Highly readable, I found this book to provide many fascinating insights into the relationship between technology and human nature.

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