Un texto que me mandaron leer en una asignatura de Maastricht (Internet technologies & international business) y me pareció bastante curioso, a parte de estar de acuerdo al 100%. Para el que no lo quiera leer en inglés, que lo traduzca con google translator
A jaded editor once said, “There are no new stories, just new reporters.”
His point even extends to the Internet. Although the Internet has truly been revolutionary, if you go back 150 years, to the height of the Victorian age, you find that the electric telegraph caused remarkably similar effects.
Yet today the telegraph is forgotten. What happened to it? And what does its fate say about what lies ahead for the Internet?
If you find it hard to believe that the Internet is merely a modern twist on a 19th-century system, consider the many striking parallels. For a start, the telegraph, like the Internet, changed communication completely. While the Internet can turn hours into seconds, the telegraph turned weeks into minutes. Before the telegraph, someone sending a dispatch to India from London had to wait months before receiving a reply. With the telegraph, communication took place as fast as operators could tap out Morse code.
Consider, also, the hype around the telegraph. The Internet hysteria of the late 1990s was nothing compared with the excitement greeting the completion of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in 1858. There were hundred-gun salutes in Boston and New York. There were fireworks, parades, and special church services. Tiffany & Co. bought the leftover portion of the Atlantic cable, cut it into four-inch pieces, and sold them as souvenirs. The completion of the cable was widely seen as the most momentous event since the discovery of the New World. People speculated that the telegraph would bring about world peace.
Even the concerns about the telegraph sound familiar. It was criticized for encouraging a dangerous overdependence among users. It raised at least as many concerns about security as the Internet has—and with good reason. Criminals and pranksters found many ingenious ways to profit. One favorite scam was to telegraph the result of a sporting event to an accomplice in a distant town where the results were still unknown, so that he could place a bet on the winning team or horse.
Before too long, many telegraph users came to see it as a mixed blessing. Businessmen, who were keen adopters of the technology because it enabled them to keep track of distant markets and overseas events, found that it also led to an acceleration in the pace and stress of life. One harassed New York executive complained in 1868: “The businessman of the present day must be continually on the jump. The slow express train will not answer his purpose, and the poor merchant has no other way in which to work to secure a living for his family. He MUST use the telegraph.” Information overload existed even then.
Although chat rooms are treated as a recent phenomenon, telegraph operators had the equivalent. Several operators on the same line could communicate with each other, tell jokes, and exchange gossip. The bored and lonely played chess and draughts over the wires, using a numbering system to identify the squares of the board. Tensions between skilled users in the cities and clueless part-time operators in rural areas led to angry exchanges similar to the “flame” wars that happen online today.
Just as inevitably, romances flourished online. (Telegraphy was regarded as a suitable job for young women, because it wasn’t too strenuous.) There were several telegraphic weddings. One took place with the groom and his bride at a remote military base in Arizona and the minister 650 miles away in San Diego. The wedding was “attended” by dozens of operators who listened over the wires.
As long as the Internet has followed the telegraph’s trajectory thus far, it’s likely that history will serve as a good guide for how the latest communication revolution will unfold.
It was the telegraph’s fate ultimately to be overshadowed by several of its offspring. When the telephone was invented, in 1876, it was known as the “speaking telegraph.” People assumed it would be used to speed the transmission of telegrams—operators could simply read them out to each other, rather than using Morse code. The telegraph survived for decades after the telephone was invented because there were some things—such as long-distance communication—for which it was better suited, but the telephone was, of course, a far more significant technology in its own right. The telegraph also spawned the stock ticker, which used telegraph technology with special ticker-tape printers to provide a continual stream of market data. Teletype machines employed the technology to send messages quickly and easily from an alphanumeric keyboard, rather than using Morse code.
The Internet can, thus, expect to be eclipsed by offspring devices that use Internet technology but are geared to specific markets and tasks and make the technology available to everyone. Access to the Internet on mobile devices, in the form of hand-held computers or smart phones, seems to be the most promising area.
Tellingly, just as the telephone was mistakenly viewed as simply a “speaking telegraph,” the mobile Internet is still mistakenly perceived as a portable version of the Web—an approach that is impractical given the bandwidth constraints and small screens of mobile devices. History suggests that the mobile Internet will be different, and will become far larger, than today’s PC-based Internet, which will continue to exist alongside it. Other task-specific devices, such as Internet-capable music players, game consoles, e-mail pagers, and Web pads will emerge. Although most “Internet appliances” have failed so far when attempting to tackle specific tasks, it’s important to remember that many of the telegraph’s offspring, such as a device that transmitted handwriting, were stillborn, too.
The sign of a truly mature technology is that it becomes invisible. You notice it only when something goes wrong: when the lights don’t come on, or when there is no dial tone. By mutating into easier-to-use technologies that were better suited to specific tasks, the telegraph threw off its nerdy origins. In the process, the telegraph became ubiquitous and was transformed into a variety of instant communications devices that have been almost unnoticed, but integral, parts of everyday life. The same will surely happen to the Internet.
Tom Standage – The Economist.
Para el que haya llegado hasta aquí, un aplauso, y ya de paso, un pequeño offtopic: Ya estoy en España Se me han acabado los 10 meses de ensueño que han supuesto mi Erasmus en Maastricht… Vaya puta mierda. Aunque bueno, ya lo dice Calamaro versionando al gran Sinatra: That’s life!, que traduciendo a nuestro bonito idioma viene a decir jódete gilipollas de mierda, vuelve a la realidad, y apechuga con ella.