Fears of the Telegraph: Then and Now


In the case that you’re a rookie and can’t read morse code, the above meme translates to: “Telegraph news too fast you say? Tell me more.” This meme is in response to The New York Times’ comment on the effect the telegraph had on news quality. The excerpt from an 1858 article, which was seen in this week’s lecture, claimed that the capability of the telegraph to share information instantaneously was in some ways causing news to become trivial and of lesser quality. It stated that perhaps it was becoming

“too fast for the truth.”

It was these ideas and fears of instant communication that inspired this meme, as looking back in retrospect these fears could be seen as almost silly. With the sheer amount of instant communication that exists today it is clear to say that the “idea of now” was nothing to fear. However, after reflecting further on the New York Times’ fears of 1858, I came to the realisation that perhaps we still have similar fears, and that perhaps we haven’t advanced as much as we thought. Thinking about it, I often see the criticisms of breaking news and commenting on how the need for instant coverage can often lead to compromising accurate information. So before we follow Willy Wonka’s condescending lead, perhaps we should acknowledge that the New York Times’ comments could have some merit. The alternative is to admit that we are just as silly as they were back in 1858.

8 thoughts on “Fears of the Telegraph: Then and Now

  1. Hey Natasha!

    I love how your blog captivates viewers with the Morse-coded caption on your meme. I’m learning about this in my creative advertising class this semester, where creating cognitive dissonance draws viewers in with their desire to understand what is happening in the seemingly confusing but very interesting ad (in this case your meme).

    Your post is also very well written and brings up some very valid points. One in particular is about how looking back it is very hard to imagine the world as it was, where the idea of instantaneous communication to somewhere across the world was actually a strange thing, and not just an everyday occurrence like it is now. Another relates to the criticisms we face today over our use of the internet being too fast and forcing inaccuracies in formation. I found this interesting because it relates to a thought I had about ARPANET and our current social media. We are criticized today for overuse of social media practices for a range of reasons (e.g. our ability to develop interpersonal relationships in the physical world is being hindered), yet ARPANET expanded exponentially to become our modern internet from its break from militaristic and scientific pursuits when users began to “gossip and schmooze”.

    Thank you for an engaging and entertaining post!

    1. Thanks for the great comment! Definitely agree with your point about ARPANET. It’s interesting to look back at fears and moral panics of different times and compare them to ours now. It’s definitely much easier to have perspective in retrospect but harder to see that fears today may be just as irrelevant. I think the main point is that these fear create a discourse which maintains a sort of self-assessment.

  2. Nice meme! Imagine if those who thought the telegraph was the cause of poorer news, were to experience today’s methods of gathering news content. I think you can be right in saying we may still have similar fears today, but I think we are also in an age where it’s almost becoming the norm!

    1. Yea it’s definitely becoming widely accepted as a part of life! But I love the idea that no matter how advanced our technology gets we, as a society, still exhibit similar social behaviour in the form of fears and worries. I think we see ourselves as more advanced than past generations but in reality, although being advanced in tech and social ideas, we still have traits that transcend time and make us human.

  3. Hey Natasha,
    I think you make an interesting point about the fears associated with the introduction of the telegraph and mass media in general however I think this could definitely be expanded on in your blog rather than spending the time/words to focus on the meme.

    Looking forward to reading the next Post!

    1. Yea, I wish I could elaborate but we’re limited to quite a small word count and I’ve already gone over! I guess that’s what the comments are for: to elaborate on the point. I can see your point about spending less time on the meme, however I think it needs explaining and context, otherwise it’s just a picture with lines and dots. Without context it’s practically meaningless. Thanks for the comment!

  4. First of all, great meme. This was really clever for me in the way that, if I were to research what that morse code meant without you telling me, it probably would have taken me a little while, in comparison to how quickly messages are communicated in the 21st century. You only have to look at the abundance of films which showcase the fear of humanity towards technology to realise that those thoughts and fears are still extremely prominent and valid – iRobot etc. Thanks for the post.

    1. Yes I love how films mirror the fears that exist at the time. I find the same in literature too. Just look at Victorian novels like Frankenstein which show the fears related to a society becoming secular and experimenting with science such as electricity. Thanks for the comment!

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