Through the MCDM

January 30, 2009

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Review of a Very Good Book

Filed under: Review — captainchunk @ 10:09 pm

Residents of the mid-1800s must have surely understood that majors changes were going to take place when what had previously been the fingers of Gods, electricity, were now running down the street on poles. The mysterious and powerful force of nature had been harnessed and was being used as the nervous system for a new method of communication. Most citizens’ only experience with electricity came from the deadly lightning out of the sky. After many scientific developments in numerous disciplines, the telegraph was brought to life by Samuel Morse, a painter, professor, and amateur scientist. Tom Standage goes to great lengths to look at Morse’s life, his competitors and their contraptions, the life-cycle of the telegraph, and the changes thrust upon the citizens of the world in The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. In what must have been larger than life times, coming at the end of the Industrial Revolution, the world was presented with a panacea, the telegraph.

Like most inventions, the telegraph was not without it share of controversies and setbacks. The author does a very respectable job in describing the mechanical telegraph from France and the competing electrical telegraph from Cooke and Wheatstone and Morse’s in 1837. Since Morse was working on this telegraph in America, and Cooke and Wheatstone were working on their telegraph nearly at the same time in England, Standage writes the stories in parallel to great effect. Perhaps supervening necessity was at work with the telegraph since it seems that many important inventions are developed competitively at the same time, in different locations, calculus, telegraph, home video formats. It really proves that there are technological and cultural changes that can drive innovation to happen. From the trials of initial tests over distances of miles to the tribulations of laying the trans-Atlantic cable multiple times, the ingenuity and perseverance of many different people changed they way humans communicate.

While it might be possible to get a sense of the technological development of the telegraph from a mere retelling of demonstrations and patents awarded, the story would be lacking in perhaps the most important aspect of the telegraph, without looking at the cultural impact. It is difficult to fully understand just how important of a tool the telegraph was during the 1800s, but through through various stories and anecdotes, Standage painted the picture of an amazing and electrifying time. People were no longer tied to transportation as a means of communication. (Czitrom, p. 3) That concept was often difficult to understand. Standage retells one story of a man who expected “to see the man run along the wries with the letter bags.” (p. 66) Though, just because an innovation is initially misunderstood by some, doesn’t mean that people are inherently bad grasping what change means. The man still understood that it was a new form of rapid communication, but he just didn’t understand by what means. Something that still happens today. By increasing the communication rate so significantly and quickly, the very nature of news changed. If I were to analyze the different impacts of the telegraph, the transformation of news reporting would certainly top the list of unexpected impacts. Going from local news and stale national and international news to knowing the issues of the world quickly must have been breathtaking. James Bennett, a penny paper owner who relied on the telegraph to supply the news for his paper, wrote that all newspaper must use the telegraph for news or face extinction. (Czitrom, p. 16) People started to fully understand the power of a larger telegraphic network for when the trans-Atlantic cable was laid from Newfoundland to Ireland linking the New World to the Old World, people celebrated in the streets for New York for days. (Standage, p. 80) The ability for people to quickly participate in the international discussion was different than anything before. We like to think that is the case for the internet, but the telegraph did it over a hundred years earlier.

A lot has been said about the power of the internet, just as many things were said of the electric telegraph. People thought the telegraph would end wars and usher in a new era of world peace and understanding, but that didn’t exactly happen. The telegraph changed how were fought though. Commanders no longer had to wait weeks for news from the front lines, but instead could command troops almost instantly. This instantness was what changed society. George Beard, a neurologist, blamed the telegraph and the acceleration of society for contributing to a nervousness amongst the people of the 19th century. (Czitrom, p. 20) The telegraph did speed up life and put us on pace for the constant connectedness we are so used to today. Users didn’t care enough about the negative effects to not use the telegraph though, in fact, the popularity of the telegraph started to congest the telegraph lines. Maybe it is that supervening power that makes people want to communicate, and communicate quickly. Our news has been forever changed by the telegraph and now services like as seeking to do the same. The Victorian Internet was truly something to behold. Its sheer network size, its speed, its cost effectiveness.

It is shocking to see the similarities between the telegraph and the current state of the internet. Just as the telephone brought disruption to the telegraph, another technology will disrupt the internet. The internet is based on protocols and to think that we will be using the same thing as a major channel of communication 50 years from now would be naive. Standage presents a unique and important invention/innovation from history that had a major impact on almost every person on the planet and if we can understand the tempest that gave rise to such an important technological development, perhaps we can better use the technology we have now and the technology to come.


Czitrom, D. J. (1982). Media and the American mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Standage, T. (1998). The Victorian Internet: The remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth centuryʼs on-line pioneers. New York: Walker and Co.


January 27, 2009

The Certainty of Uncertainty: a presentation

Filed under: Discussion — captainchunk @ 2:57 pm

The similarities between the early days of the telegraph and what we are experiencing today with the internet are almost shocking at times. It is easy to think that our current technological situation is unique because it is brand new and has never been done before— nobody has used the internet before us! While that is true, it doesn’t take into account the fact that other technologies have pressed the same emotional, financial, frustrating, helpful, beneficial, and confusing feelings into peoples’ lives. Daniel Czitrom does an excellent job of providing an insightful look at just how far reaching the impact of the telegraph was on the American way of life in Media and the American Mind.

Technically speaking, the telegraph was a feat that required the use of multiple branches of science. From the chemical reactions to magnetism to electricity, they all had a hand in birthing the telegraph as a useful communication apparatus. The telegraph brought not just technical changes to communication but cultural changes as well. With any new technology comes “plenty of expressions of doubt, incredulity, and superstitious fear.” (Czitrom, 1982) People were able to communicate in a way they have never been able to before. Because of the telegraph, “news no longer needed to be respectable or even significant.” (Czitrom, 1982) Sounds like he is talking about Twitter, but instead is about a technology that is over 100 years old. Just as Twitter is threating current newspaper business, the telegraph did the exact same thing. James Bennett, a penny newspaper owner and a proponent of the telegraph, wrote in the 1840s that newspapers would have to rely on telegraphic news or go out of business. The telegraph revolutionized the news business just as the internet is revolutionizing it again.

It is interesting just how much we sometimes think we have a grasp on technology even though we may only “see” a sliver of it’s potential impact. In the following clip, Al Swearengen laments the coming of the telegraph to Deadwood, SD. (Warning: vulgarity ensues)

Not long after the telegraph arrives in Deadwood, Al himself uses it to communicate often. His fears were quickly outweighed by the benefits of the ease of communication. Extremely similar to when many people started interacting with the internet. It needed to prove that its utility overcame the concerns and uncertainty.

Today, many people still have a technological anxiety. George Beard, a neurologist, thought that the telegraph and modern civilization were responsible for increased nervousness among “brain workers.” (Czitrom, 1982) This School House Rock video actually addresses this issue very well, even though it was probably not intended.

If anything can be gleamed from the telegraph, it’s that people have been through this before. Somehow, people figured out how to best use technology by applying it to their needs. History repeats, albeit at a fast pace.


Czitrom, D. J. (1982). Media and the American mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

School House Rock – Telegraph Line. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from YouTube Web site:

Swearengen on YouTube. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from YouTube Web site:

January 26, 2009

Three Questions

Filed under: Questions — captainchunk @ 1:33 am

1. In the article about innovation-decisions, it is said that the typical early knowers of innovation have more education, higher social status, and more metropolitan. Is this a good or bad phenomenon? Does it really matter or is it just “the way it is?”

2. The disruptive technology article discusses hard drive technology. What are some current disruptive technologies emerging on the market and what long term potential do they have?

3. Does it make financial sense to really pursue disruptive technologies? Most of the hard drive companies that the article mentions are not in business under that name anymore, and Seagate currently is one of the top respected hard drive makers. Clearly it wasn’t a fatal business flaw for them to not follow the disruptive business immediately.

January 23, 2009

Saving the Past by Organizing the Future

Filed under: Research — captainchunk @ 2:10 am

Media archiving is an important process at all levels of humanity. A girl might keep her first love letter from a high school sweetheart. Libraries archive old manuscripts to keep them in the best possible condition. The United States government is required by law to maintain records of correspondence in case they are needed. Photographers capture seminal moments in history through their lenses, and through archiving, generations to come are able to view the photos. There are a million reasons why somebody, somewhere wants to archive something. The desire and reasons to archive may not have changed much over the years, but the methods certainly have. Not all that long ago, the word digital never entered the same sentence as archive and now digital archiving is very much a leading method of archiving media.

Most government agencies have a strong grasp of digital archiving because they have trained professionals and policies in place to facilitate archiving important materials. Your average person, however, does not have a strong grasp on digital archiving. My research will center on digital archiving technology at the personal, consumer level. I anticipate my research to reveal that current archiving technology is poorly used and that the technology of the next 10 years will make archiving effortless. To develop this concept, the history of digital archiving will be studied and analyzed to see how the useability of archiving technology has changed over time. My research website will not only be a resource of historical and current information, but I also hope that it will provide practical advice on digital archiving technology.

I believe this research is important due the rapid pace with which our lives are being digitized. People tend to only archive in terms of the present, forgetting that technologies can become quickly outdated. Another pitfall of poor archiving technology and practice has nothing to do with physical replication, but the misplacement of data from insufficient meta data (Strodl, Motlik, Stadler, Rauber).  People need to know why they are archiving data in order for the archival system to work for their needs. Archiving isn’t just about storage, but just as important is retrieval (Kaye, Vertesi,  Avery, Dafoe, David, Onaga, Rosero, Pinch). Without a proper understanding of how technology can be used to preserve our digital information, I fear that media that should not be lost, will be.


Kaye, J. ‘., Vertesi, J., Avery, S., Dafoe, A., David, S., Onaga, L., Rosero, I., and Pinch, T. 2006. To have and to hold: exploring the personal archive. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Montréal, Québec, Canada, April 22 – 27, 2006). R. Grinter, T. Rodden, P. Aoki, E. Cutrell, R. Jeffries, and G. Olson, Eds. CHI ’06. ACM, New York, NY, 275-284. DOI=

Strodl, S., Motlik, F., Stadler, K., and Rauber, A. 2008. Personal & soho archiving. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (Pittsburgh PA, PA, USA, June 16 – 20, 2008). JCDL ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 115-123. DOI=

January 20, 2009

Yes, Stafford couple and Schkade, Internet Use is Influenced by Social Factors.

Filed under: Reflection — Tags: , , — captainchunk @ 1:01 am

While reading Determining Uses and Gratifications for the Internet, it was obvious that the authors understood how important motivation is to online retailers. By better understanding the reason why people are on the internet, businesses can tailor their offerings towards the consumers they wish to target. The researchers looked at the motivation of internet users via uses and gratifications research that has been used on other forms of media like TV and radio. I personally don’t think that their research produced anything shocking from a 2009 perspective and perhaps only mildly interesting from a 2004 vantage point.

It was refreshing to see that the researchers acknowledged the potential internet usage motivated by social factors. One common problem I encounter when recalling the technology situation from more than a few years ago, is placing too much of an advanced framework on my recollection. I tend to be a very early adopter, so while I might have seen the social nature of the internet in 2004, the vast majority of people probably did not. This article is important in that regard as it is concerned with average internet users and their motivations. The authors broke motivation factors down into two other groups- content and process. Process being the act of searching or surfing the internet and content being the actual media that draws the user to that particular website. I have a problem with breaking these two categories apart and I think it has to do with the survey the researchers conducted to gather data. Using words that people associate with the internet and then asking people to rank those words gives data that says people highly associate “search” with the internet and leads to the hypothesis that people are motivated by the internet process of searching. You almost have to search to get the content you are looking for on the internet, especially in 2009, much less 2004 due to the ever expanding amount of information available. I am concerned that people are confusing the process of searching with what they are really looking for, which is content. While some people may just randomly click on links or type random words into search boxes whereby engaging in the process of the internet, I don’t believe that the average internet user is motivated by the process. Instead, I think they want the content.

Knowing why somebody is using a particular medium is important. If the social component was not a motivating factor, then websites like Amazon would not have user reviews for every product or user profiles. Businesses that attempt to sell products or services online would do well to make an effort to understand the major reasons why somebody is clicking on their front door. Motivation is seems like something that would be difficult to nail down due the changing nature of the internet. I believe the social factor is much more important in 2009 than 2004 and will continue to grow and eventually overshadow process or content.

January 13, 2009

My initial idea

Filed under: Research — captainchunk @ 11:00 pm

I am very interested archiving and digital archiving in particular. Archiving as a topic is too large, so I am contemplating narrowing it to just image archiving, or perhaps some other more specific area of archiving. There seems to be a lot of research on this topic, so I feel good about finding enough resources for my paper. Digital archiving is constantly evolving and depends significantly on technology to do so.

What looks to be a good reference…

Filed under: Research — captainchunk @ 10:55 pm

Strodl, S., Motlik, F., Stadler, K., and Rauber, A. 2008. Personal & soho archiving. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (Pittsburgh PA, PA, USA, June 16 – 20, 2008). JCDL ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 115-123. DOI=

In this paper, the authors discuss archiving digital media for SOHOs (small office/home office). It was published in 2008 so it is recent and relevant to the concept of archiving digital media. Institutions like Universities and Governments are familiar with media archiving, but individuals often do not understand the importance of digital archiving.

bad powerpoint

Filed under: Discussion — captainchunk @ 1:23 pm

Telegraphs and MMOs

Filed under: Questions — captainchunk @ 1:54 am

1. In order for the telegraph to really take off, Morse’s code was needed. When it comes to technology does the adoption rate depend more on the software than the hardware or are they both equal?

2. It is commonly accepted that people act differently online under the protection of anonymity. What would the ramifications be if there was no anonymity on the internet? Will the internet develop into a much more heavily regulated activity?

3. Should the government regulate more than it already does, what happens in MMOs? If prostitution is illegal in a state, should a MMO user be able to engage in prostitution in the virtual world if they are accessing the world from a state that does not have legalized prostitution.

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