Read an oldie the other day, The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage. It was a quick, fun read but sort of silly in some ways.
His claim is that the singular invention of the Telegraph was the first Internet…and to take a phrase from Standage himself (out of context): “Well, sort of.” In fact, it seems the invention that is most strikingly a first step on the way to the modern internet is the use of electrical pulses as a means of conveying information and data from point A to point B. The rest—how humans wrestled with the new communication potential—may well be a repeat of previous “great leaps” in human history and a reflection of the human impulse or instinct to communicate and share information—whether it be in words, electrical impulses, art, oral tradition, trade, or teaching, we seem driven to communicate—and to leverage communication to our own ends.
Among the interesting tidbits that have stayed with me is the change in work culture (from a sun-up-to-sun-down schedule to a newly global 24/7 schedule)–we struggle with our 24/7/365 always-on, always-open global culture and it’s interesting to consider how 24/7 changed things way back in the Victorian age. But in the end, Standage lost me when he boldly asserted that the changes Victorian era society went through during the introduction of the Telegraph so thoroughly modernized them that “time traveling Victorians…would, no doubt, be unimpressed with the Internet.”
I mean, come on. In my own lifetime, I’ve marvelled at the new forms of technology that interconnect the world. I’ve even marvelled at the innovations with bicycles, ferchrissakes. To think that folks from the 1880’s would not be blown away by our technology and interconnectedness now is surely ridiculous. But, someone 100 years from now will be writing something similar to Victorian Internet and gather together a treasure trove of quotes about how the internet made our lives (choose one): easier/smarter/harder/better/faster/worse and will come to various conclusions about technological impacts based on that.
The world is on a trajectory of inter-relatedness (interesting related thought here). When the printing press was invented, it spawned the creation of entire new religions and the Holy Roman Empire took a huge hit. Suddenly the written word was available not just to those in the cathedral but to anyone who could get a hold of a manuscript. The rise of the first person narrative novel can be linked to MySpace; oral tradition can be linked to the blogosphere; tribal knowledge can trace a direct line to wikis; and certainly the old market and bazarre network can be linked to craigslist and ebay. But all those parallels speak more to human nature and the impulse to inter-connect than to any of the devices invented to achieve that goal.
Daily travel stats:
Internet: a million miles, give or take
car: 6 (4 tasks, 1 person)
bike: 10.5 miles
bus: 2.5 miles
passenger ferry to downtown Seattle: 3 miles