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Dead medium: The Telegraph
From: bruces@well.com (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): *The Progress of Invention in the 19th Century* by Edward W. Byrn Munn and Co., Publishers, Scientific American Office, 361 Broadway, New York 1900

(((bruces remarks: Mr. Byrn's ruminations on media evolution are of particular interest. Note his remarkable dead-media nostalgia for "the dusty archives of the patent office." Will the "coming generation" render the judgement of history -- or is the subject "beyond human estimate" and too impressive for speculation?)))

page 30

"As the art of telegraphy grows apace toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, individuality of invention becomes lost in the great maze of modifications, ramifications, and combinations. Inventions become merged into systems, and systems become swallowed up by companies. In the promises of living inventors the wish is too often father to the thought, and the conservative man sees the child of promise rise in great expectation, flourish for a few years, and then subside to quiet rest in the dusty archives of the Patent Office. They all contribute their quota of value, but it is so difficult to single out any one of those which as yet are on probation, that we must leave to the coming generation the task of making meritorious selection.

"Today the telegraph is the great nerve system of the nation's body, and it ramifies and vitalizes every part with sensitive force. In 1899 the Western Union Telegraph Company alone had 22,285 offices, 904,633 miles of wire, sent 61,398,157 messages, received in money $23,954,312, and enjoyed a profit of $5,868,733. Add to this the business of the Postal Telegraph Company and other companies, and it becomes well nigh impossible to grasp the magnitude of this tremendous factor of Nineteenth Century progress. Figures fail to become impressive after they reach the higher denominations, and it may not add much to either the reader's conception or his knowledge to say that the statistics for the *whole world* for the year 1898 show: 103,832 telegraph offices, 2,989,803 miles of wire, and 365,453,526 messages sent during that year. This wire would extend around the earth about 120 times, and the messages amounted to one million a day for every day in that year. This is for land telegraphs only, and does not include cable messages.

"What saving has accrued to the world in the matter of time, and what development in values in the various departments of life, and what contributions to human comfort and happiness the telegraph has brought about, is beyond human estimate, and is too impressive a thought for speculation."