The Genesis of Our Networked Society: The Telegraph

Whilst sitting on Facebook and scrolling your newsfeed and messaging your friends, have you ever thought about how it all started? How can we send an instant message to a friend on the other side of the world? Considering our generation has grown up with such technology, we can take it for granted as it seems normal and natural. But in fact, it is pretty remarkable and it all started with the Telegraph!

In 1837, the first commercial electric telegraph was established in England. While it was considered successful technology, it relied on a complicated encoding practice, which ultimately led to its’ failure. Over the decades, pioneers continued to develop the technology and in 1866, the first proper trans-Atlantic cable was built. Indeed, this was revolutionary for the people of the time as the globally integrated information network led to the development of the networked society. Now messages from London to New York no longer took 10 days to be delivered by sea vessels; instead, messages could be sent in a matter of minutes! Indeed, this technology was hard to comprehend for the masses. It was a material force which created invisible tangle effects. Sending messages no longer required material labour or transport where you had to send the message by foot or by horse; now messages could travel across the world in real time independently from materiality.


Such technology had a profound impact on social and economic structures in society. Not only did it revolutionise the gathering and distribution of news through the creation of weather reports and news reports from around the world, telegraph lines were also used to establish standardised time throughout the world. Such technology also paved the way for the development of other forms of communication such as the radio, the telephone, the television and the World Wide Web. Thus it goes without saying that the Telegraph is probably the most revolutionary technology mankind has ever developed.

So next time you sit down with your computer or smartphone and send a text message, email or an instant message, remember, it all started with the Telegraph.





Mitew, T 2014, ‘A Global Nervous System: from the telegraph to cyberspace’, 4 August, University of Wollongong, <>



2 thoughts on “The Genesis of Our Networked Society: The Telegraph

  1. timbrenotes says:

    Hey there! It is interesting to see that it all began with the Telegraph. The immediacy with which we now communicate reveals a lot about us culturally, socially and economically. It is interesting to see how the changes in communication shape many aspects of our lives. I was reading an article the other day about immediacy of technology is affecting the travel experience. Thought you might find it interesting.

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