Dash Dit-Dit-Dit-Dit Dit Dit-Dash-Dash Dit Dash-Dit-Dit-Dit…
Our information network continued to rely on paper until Ben Franklin invented electricity1. Okay… you got me. Ol’ Ben did not invent electricity. He didn’t even discover it. He merely proved that lightning was electrical. And that flying kites in a storm is a great way to catch a cold.
1 Not really.
However, Ben was one of many 16th-18th century scientists that contributed to the understanding of electricity and the development of how it could be used in some productive manner. He was also one of those early scientists who managed not to electrocute himself.
So… while man was tinkering with new discoveries and ways to use them, the printed word dominated as the primary form of communication… beyond shouting distance. Then finally, in the early 1800’s, the concept of the electrical telegraph came into play with numerous ideas and concepts as to how it could be made to work. Many were quite comical. None… worked.
In 1837, Samuel Morse perfected a workable telegraph system along with a viable way to transmit text; the famous Morse Code. Morse Code was a series of short and long electrical impulses transmitted by wire that represented letters and numbers. Oddly, there was no punctuation which meant that there was no sentence-ending period. Instead, the word “stop” was substituted for a period… which lead to many a confusing conversation: “Should I go now stop” “Yes stop” “what stop go or stop stop” “go stop”
* It is interesting to note that the two impulse dot-dash (or dit-dah) system of Morse Code is not unlike the two-digit, zero & one binary system which is used by virtually all modern computers. Beneath all the pretty graphics and formatted text, our modern Web is a two-digit binary system; zero or one, on or off, true or false.
Despite the potential for confusion, the Morse Telegraph system and Code caught on. By 1861, telegraph lines crossed the American continent. The first trans-Atlantic cable was laid in 1866. Australia was connected in 1872 and the Pacific cable completed in 1902… thus encircling the world. Near the end of the 19th century, Marconi got the radio working and the telegraph went wireless.
And so did our Information Network. Communication & news could now be sent around the globe. It was also now “interactive” in that virtually anyone could, relatively quickly, communicate both ways; back and forth.
Yes… mail postal systems of the era pretty much provided the same capability… minus the “relatively quickly” part… but again that relied on the written word and was not easily disseminated to a broad audience. No… it would take our next great leap in technology to get us to the on-ramp of The Information Super Highway. (Cont)
* In the United States, Western Union discontinued all telegram and commercial messaging services in 2006.
*India ended its telegraph service in 2013; the world’s last existing true electric telegraph system.