Through the MCDM

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 13, 2009

bad powerpoint

Filed under: Discussion — captainchunk @ 1:23 pm

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