Can humans travel at the speed of news? “Faster than light”

At the start of World War, I, Pacific Ocean was pinpointed with little islands and they were able to communicate with larger world only by steamer. According to an article in the New York Time, In July 1914, residents of American Samoa got a radio, while other island waited months for an old newspaper to be delivered by sea.

Only a century ago men and women would gather and wait at places for ships to give out old news. One of the last gasps of original communication system was represented in 1914, in which news and people travelled at the same pace.


Before the telegraph was invented and implemented in the 1840s, wrote Tom Standage in his book, “The Victorian Internet,” if a man picked someone’s pocket in London or New York and hopped on a fast train, he was probably home free; no news could outpace his fast train. After the telegraph was invented, a thief escaping by train could be foiled by a message sent to the next station.

Praise for Victorian Internet:


 “This lively, anecdote-filled history reveals that the telegraph changed the world forever-from a hand-carried-message world to an instantaneous one.” -Booklist

Fast forward to our time. On a Sunday night, May 1, 2011, President Obama announced to an audience of millions that Osama bin Laden had been killed by United States special forces. The killing had taken place a few hours before the president’s announcement, at about 1 a.m. in Pakistan, which was nine hours ahead of Eastern time in the United States.

In other words, Obama told the nation on a Sunday night about events that transpired in Pakistan early Monday morning. The apparent time-bending was just a matter of the nine-hour time difference aided by instantaneous communication, rapid transportation and mass broadcast media that allowed the world to hear Obama make the announcement live.

When news travelled at human speed, there was a lag between what happened and when and what people found out about it. (Standage, 1998) With the shift of 100 years, Wires and then the wireless network secured the world and made Instant communication profound. Instantaneity has changed us in countless ways. Here are three:

faster: light

Colonialism and imperialism. The telegraph and the wireless radio made imperial power even more solid. Before then, media historian James W. Carey noted, the world, and even the British empire, was decentralized.

“It was difficult to determine whether British colonial policy was being set in London or by colonial governors in the field — out of contact and out of control,” Carey wrote. “It was the cable and the telegraph, that turned colonialism into imperialism: a system in which the center of an empire could dictate rather than merely respond to the margin.”

Arbitrage. Arbitrage is the practice of buying cheaply in one place and selling in a more expensive market. Telegraphs combined with the railroads, allowed traders to sell from one place to another. Today, stockbrokers can earn or lose millions if their speed is a few second different than that of its competitor.

Time and space. Before the telegraph changed everything, each city had its own local time. Town timekeepers would judge noon by the sun’s place in the sky and then set the official town clocks accordingly.

It was inaugurated on Sunday, November 18, 1883, also called “The Day of Two Noons”, when each railroad station clock was reset as standard-time noon was reached within each time zone. Four time zones used today: Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern. The rest of the world soon followed suit. It’s no lie that telegraph has changed our concept of time.

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As for space (or, distance), in 1844, the telegraph’s first year, the New York Herald asked, “What has become of space?” and provided its own answer: It had been “destroyed completely.”

There was a time when we would wait for hours and hours for latest news to arrive from a distant ship and now if we do the same, it’s not to discover what is attracting the world, for that we have Internet, which is not going anywhere anytime soon.


Signing off,

Khan Sultana Nazish


Jacknis, N. (2017). Telegraph vs. Internet: Which Had Greater Impact?. [online] blogs@Cisco – Cisco Blogs. Available at: https://blogs.cisco.com/government/telegraph-vs-internet-which-had-greater-impact [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

Nonnenmacher, T. (2017). History of the U.S. Telegraph Industry. [online] Eh.net. Available at: https://eh.net/encyclopedia/history-of-the-u-s-telegraph-industry/ [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

Standage, T. (1998). Victorian Internet. [ebook] New York: Berkley Books, p.3. Available at: https://ia601904.us.archive.org/9/items/TheVictorianInternet/The-Victorian-Internet.pdf [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

Standage, T. (1998). ‘War and Peace in the global village’. in The Victorian Internet: The remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century’s online pioneerNew York: Walker and Co, pp 136-153

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