A reading club with a view to the future

493 Tom Standage: The Victorian Internet

Exploring the parallels between the advent of the telegraph in the 19th century and the rise of the internet in modern times.



"The Victorian Internet" delves into the fascinating history of the telegraph, a revolutionary communication technology that transformed society during the 19th century. Tom Standage draws intriguing parallels between the telegraph's impact and the modern internet, showcasing the shared human desire for instant connectivity and the far-reaching consequences of such technological advancements.


  1. Title: "The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers" 
  2. Author: Tom Standage 
  3. Publishing Year: 1998 
  4. Publisher: Walker Publishing Company 
  5. Length in Hours: 5 hours and 22 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. The telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication, enabling rapid transmission of messages across vast distances for the first time in human history.
  2. The impact of the telegraph on society, commerce, and geopolitics, illustrating how it transformed various aspects of life during the Victorian era.
  3. The emergence of a global communications network, connecting people and nations in ways previously unimaginable and fostering a sense of interconnectedness.
  4. The telegraph's role in shaping the world's first information revolution, akin to the digital revolution brought about by the internet in modern times.
  5. The parallels between the telegraph and the internet, highlighting similarities in their transformative effects on society, the spread of information, and the acceleration of globalization.

5 funny quotes

  1. "Imagine waiting days or even weeks for a simple 'LOL' response. The telegraph pioneers had the last laugh."
  2. "Before the telegraph, 'going viral' meant catching a contagious disease. Talk about a technological upgrade!"
  3. "Sending a telegraph was like composing the original 140-character tweet. Brevity was essential in both cases."
  4. "The telegraph brought new meaning to the phrase 'instant messaging' — no more carrier pigeons or horseback messengers!"
  5. "Victorians were telegraph 'followers' before Instagram influencers were even a thing. The 19th century was way ahead in trends!"

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The telegraph created an 'electronic superhighway' that facilitated the flow of information at a speed previously unimaginable."
  2. "The Victorian era was the dawn of the information age, as the telegraph laid the groundwork for our modern interconnected world."
  3. "Just like the internet today, the telegraph sparked debates about privacy, security, and the impact of instant communication on society."
  4. "The telegraph disrupted traditional modes of communication, much like the internet disrupted traditional media and publishing industries."
  5. "The telegraph broke down barriers of time and distance, forever altering the way people interacted and understood the world."

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing the need for instantaneous communication with concerns over privacy and security.
  2. Addressing the social and cultural changes brought about by the telegraph's ability to rapidly transmit information and ideas.
  3. Navigating the tension between the telegraph as a tool for progress and its potential to widen societal inequalities.
  4. Managing the ethical implications of telegraph communication, such as interception, censorship, and misinformation.
  5. Resolving conflicts between traditional modes of communication, such as handwritten letters, and the emerging dominance of telegraphic communication

5 examples

  1. Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail's collaboration in developing the Morse code, a crucial language for telegraph communication.
  2. The establishment of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which became the dominant telegraph service provider in the United States.
  3. The transatlantic telegraph cable project led by Cyrus Field, connecting Europe and North America for near-instant communication.
  4. The role of the telegraph in news dissemination by organizations like Reuters and Associated Press, shaping modern journalism.
  5. Alexander Graham Bell's work with the telegraph and subsequent invention of the telephone, leading to further communication advancements.

Referenced books

  1. "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick
  2. "The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography" by Simon Singh
  3. "The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers" by Tom Standage
  4. "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" by Tim Wu
  5. "Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet" by Andrew Blum

Share a quote

"Victorians were telegraph 'followers' before Instagram influencers were even a thing. The 19th century was way ahead in trends!"

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