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Early Network History

Here is a quick glimpse at early network natural history. By the way, all history is revisionist history.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with god, and the word was god. Sometime later in 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse, artist and inventor, somewhat impertinently asked for clarification by sending the message, What hath god wrought? between Washington and Baltimore over the first long distance telegraph line. Compared to lookup speeds with the advent of the world wide web, email, blogs, Facebook, and so forth, answers came rather slowly.

In fact most of the answers were not to Morse’s original question, but by then commerce and industry, politics and warfare had begun to ask and answer innumerable questions that led to further growth of the networks.

It’s true, though, that after Darwin many answers to Morse’s original question did pop up and they also promoted network growth.

As Saint McLuhan pointed out, mass media really took off when telegraph (as wire services) hooked up with newspapers. So, although few households sported telegraph service, millions began to gobble up newspapers. This led to the temporary predominance of mass media that reached its peak in the 20th century with electronic (radio and TV) and hybrid (print, records, flicks, etc) forms of distribution, even though the non-mass media of telephones also grew quite rapidly.

By the end of the 20th century the interdependence of mass media and terrestrial resource extraction was so comprehensive that the great mass of humanity considered the combination, known as consumerism, simply the way life is. Various religions, political philosophies, banking conventions, and Disneylandifications promoted this basic mass illusion in multifariously entertaining ways, but this was only temporary.

Reasoning by false analogy, we note that the great dinosaurs were temporary. Too little intelligence for too much to move around. Did they notice the furry little mammals underfoot, not to mention the advent of lightweight birds and small reptiles? Huge government and corporate and mass media systems — too little intelligence for too much to move around. Did they notice…?

Robert Wachtel can be reached at: bob@posthorse.com.

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