The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage

July 2019

Jeremy’s been pressing me to read this book for years, and I’m glad I finally did. It’s an entertaining look at the history of the telegraph and its impact on society, which has surprising parallels to the internet. The book was written in 1998, so it didn’t have much to go on in speculating how the web might change society. But the same techno-utopianism that accompanied the birth of the web (“There won’t be any more hatred! There won’t be any more nationalism!” - AHAHAHAHAA) accompanied the dawn of the telegraphic age. These technologies do bring unimagined benefits to society, but in the end, people are still people, and people still hate. That glum realization aside, this is actually a fun and lively account. I especially loved the passages on laying the first transatlantic cables, and I’m definitely going to check out A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable for more insight into that incredible feat.

Further reading…