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Please comment on the passage below from "Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph" in Jim Carey's Communication As Culture.
It is not an infrequent experience to be driving along an interstate highway and to become aware that the highway is paralleled by a river, a canal, a railroad track, or telegraph and telephone wires. In that instant one may realize that each of these improvements in transportation and communication merely worked a modification on what preceded it. The telegraph twisted and altered but did not displace patterns of connection formed by natural geography: by the river and primitive foot and horse paths and later by the wooden turnpike and canal.But the innovation of the telegraph can stand metaphorically for all the innovations that ushered in the modern phase of history and determined, even to this day, the major lines of development of American communications. The most important fact about the telegraph is at once the most obvious and innocent: It permitted for the first time the effective separation of communication from transportation.
When the telegraph reached the West Coast eight years in advance of a transcontinental railroad, the identity of communication and transportation was ended in both fact and symbol. Before the telegraph, “communication” was used to describe transportation as well as message transmittal for the simple reason that movement of messages was dependent on their being carried on foot or horseback or by rail. The telegraph, by ending that identity, allowed symbols to move independently of and faster than transportation. To put it in a slightly different way, the telegraph freed communication from the constraints of geography. The telegraph, then, not only altered the relation between communication and transportation; it also changed the fundamental ways in which communication was thought about. It provided a model for thinking about communication -- a model I have called a transmission model – and displaced older religious views of communication even as the new technology was mediated through religious language. And it opened up new ways of thinking about communication within both the formal practice of theory and the practical consciousness of everyday life. In this sense the telegraph was not only a new tool of commerce but also a thing to think with, an agency for the alteration of ideas.
This Week's Respondent
All of the means of communication that we've explored so far have progressively expanded the reach of the message, but the telegraph is most notable for theoretically eliminating the constraints of geography. With the scientific advent of electricity, messages could now move independently from any means of transportation. This had a massive impact on the way information was exchanged, and also the power this same information and knowledge now held. Access to information mere seconds before someone else could establish an upperhand (as in the case of the New York Stock Exchange). Prior to the invention of the telegraph, messages were delivered by hand, on horseback or via railroad. The delays these methods imposed could potentially render a message irrelevant by the time it was eventually received. Especially in the case of war and news in general, the speed with which one can communicate can have major and irrevocable effects.
The other thing that I noticed about this reading is that the same major themes that were demonstrated in our previous class readings are evident in the case of the telegraph as well. The same human motivations for embracing the printing press, are present with regard to this newer form of communication; specifically religion, capitalism and nationalism/imperialism.
Religious people hoped the use of the telegraph could be used as a tool for proselytizing. They were anxious to spread the word of Christ as far and as fast as possible. Capitalism came into play by effectively leveling the economic playing field across the nation. The telegraph revolutionized the way that business transactions occured. For the first time, trade could occur between anonymous buyers and sellers. Also, the concept of perfect information virtually eliminated geographic boundaries.
I plan to discuss the theme of nationalism/imperialism in class, since the telegraph picks up where printing left off and lays the groundwork for future means of communication and globalization.
The idea of changing the way people think about communication as separate and distinct from transportation is very interesting. The idea behind communication has transcended geographical limitations and has gained a sense of directness and truthfulness. Not only is information transmitted faster, as even technology as early as the beacons of light in our Greek studies, but the content of the message was kept in tact and not altered through transmission. Another point made in the article that I found very interesting was how communication was a key of humanity; that humanness has a unique quality of being able to communicate with technology, of overcoming nature, unlike "barbarians. It's an ethnocentric perspective of the relationship between communication and humanity. Are people more humane by using technology for communication? Isn't that just another medium in the way of direct interpersonal, maybe even more humane, communication?
The medium used for the transfer of information affects not only the culture in which it is used (as we have been studying), but the actual nature of the information itself. I'm unsure whether this consideration falls within our range of ability to define-- it seems a case for cognitive psychology or the like. However we can certainly make a case for such affects based on what we are able to identify by the social or communal patterns that have taken shape throughout history under the advent of the various means of communication we have looked at thus far.
To the extent that we are able to gauge these patterns, can we identify how "transmission" affects informational content differently from that which is "transported"? The broad range of consequences resulting from the time restrictions of dissemination are somewhat clear, but what of the medium itself? Is there something about the format, besides its functionality, that in effect changes what is being composed, or changes the interpretation of what is being received?
Tiffany to Tucker It sounds like someone is channeling Marshall McLuhan who argues that "the medium is the message" and despite my general feeling that McLuhan's statement is alliterated hogwash, a playful metaphor at best, thinking of the telegraph in terms of a medium that "is" or at least holds much meaning for the message is useful.
Ting-Fang (Annie), Cheng
Recently the summer Daylight Saving Time ends. Time delays an hour, and people may feel they suddenly gain an hour. Through the huge technological network-- the clocks on the computer desktops or the clocks shown on mobile phones linked to Cingular/ T-Mobile or whatever wireless cell phone services, the time synchronized, and people aware of and admit soon after this time change. It relates to the time back to November 18, 1883 when the standard time zones applied. It was the fast or even synchronizing essence based on the transmission by telegraph that people need to come up with the new consciousness of time by constructing a standard time zone in order to keep up with the changes telegraphic revolution brought about. Time in this way is mechanically rationalized by arithmetic measures and artificial factors, while people would not be that precise if the rapid transmission of information was not possible.
Tiffany to Annie
I too was thinking about the time change and the minor collisions it caused at my place where I work on Sunday as I read this. Standardization despite our general preoccupation with talking about local control these days does have its place. I appreciated the rigor with which the topic of time was addressed. And was so glad to know why the silly ball drops at New Year's!
I found the idea of the telegraph separating communication and transportation to be very interesting. In some way, I did not actually think that communication and transportation to be interchangeable in the past. However, with the introduction of the telegraph, efficiency of delivering a message was accomplished where delivering a message through transportation could not compete. As a result, through the improvement in the transmission of messages, decisions or the movement of society itself, I believe, would increase. Because there is no time wasted in the physical delivery of a message, the time in which to make decisions or have a certain action were significantly decreased.
I am wondering about the first paragraph of the excerpt where he states,
In that instant one may realize that each of these improvements in transportation and communication merely worked a modification on what preceded it.
He goes on further to say that the "telegraph twisted and altered but did not displace the patterns of connection formed by natural geography." I feel that through the invention of the telgraph, natural geography no longer acted as an obstacle that hinders the efficiency in which messages can be delievered. What effect did natural geography still have on the telegraph?
In a wonderful turn of events, I find myself just shaking my head and nodding as I read Carey. I think, yes, this is plausible, and, yes, it makes sense to look at the telegraph in these ways. I appreciate that we have a balanced perspective here that looks at a broad historical context for looking at technological development. When he reminds us of the common experience of driving on the interstate and being reminded "that the highway is paralleled by a river, a canal, a railroad track, or telegraph and telephone wires," the plethora of historical referents all come to mind simultaneosly and I begin to be able to map on a context for the history of communication.
Valerio Borgianelli Spina
The oral communication, advent of alphabets, advent of printing, and now the advent of telegraph, all different means that gradually developed and stretched the expanse of human communication, affecting and altering their culture, economy and religion. The most distinguishing change that telegraph brought along was the separation of communication from transportation. By then communication could take place faster than transportation. The whole new pace and breadth of communication gave it a new image and a different way in which communication was thought about which eventually set the ground for all the future social alterations.