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Transportation and Transmission

Page history last edited by Eric Shipley 8 years, 8 months ago









Until the invention of the telegraph, there were two ways to pass information to someone else. You could go to the person and tell them/show them, or you could have someone else tell them/show them. The consistent part is that the information had to be passed physically. If there were distances involved between sender and receiver, then someone had to travel. The Pony Express is a famous example of a service that would carry a message before the telegraph. [10] Transportation and communication had always been synonymous but with the arrival of the telegraph, this no longer held true. This was due to the fact that no mechanical or muscular transport was needed to pass information. Telegraph, the new way of communicating via the electrical impulses transmitting over wire, became known as an the first example of transmission.

The first telegraph message


Forms of media have changed throughout human history, but the physical nature of the medium had been a given. Telegraph created a way of communicating that up to that point could not be grasped by the mind of the consumer. Telegraph was the first product of the electrical and science industries that we are so familiar with today. [3] The first significant telegraph message in the United States, was sent on May 23, 1844, from Washington to Baltimore. The first message transmitted was: "What hath God wrought?" [12] The telegraph became a sort of social nervous system, sending messages across the body of the world as fast as the speed of light. 1844 marked the beginning of what is known as the “transmission” age. [1] When the first message transmitted over wires, the separation of communication and transport was complete.

Effects of the telegraph


The relationship between communication and transportation was now only a metaphor.  You could see it in the parallel growth of the railroad and telegraph, but this was really because telegraph lines were easy to install where the terrain had already been cleared such as along the rail routes.  We see the same phenomena today along highways. [2] The use of the telegraph became known as both a model and a mechanism for control of, specifically, the railroad. They no longer relied on horsemen to communicate where a train was. Instead, the telegraph lines were used to send electric signals to the switches. [3] Not only could it move information at the speed of light, it could also be a simulation of and control mechanism for what is left behind. [3]


This integrated system of transport of the railroad and telegraph provided a model for all other systems. The same principle governs the development of all modern processes in electrical transmission and control from guided gun sights to simple machines that open doors. (3) This is seen today for aircraft control. Without techniques of radar and radio communication, planes would crash more frequently and the whole airport system would be useless [4].

New vision for society


The public was at first, in both awe and total confusion about the workings of the telegraph.  Many instances of this confusion existed from the man who imagined the new lines were tightropes, upon which men carrying messages would run, to the woman who insisted a bowl of sour kraut be sent to her son in the war.  Eventually people became familiar with the new concept and sending and receiving telegraphs became part of everyday life. [10]


There was the realization of the capacity to transform the great society created by industry into a unified nation with one culture, and a great public of common understanding and knowledge came about. [2] An example of this is the submarine telegraph service between England and France which opened on November 13, 1851. [8] By 1901 all the continents were connected by submarine telegraph lines (see picture below) [9].



Transmission, the new communication


With this new method of communicating, a new language, of sorts developed.  The receiver of a telegraph message could only receive pulses of electricity.  This meant that the available options were on, off, or on for a certain length of time.  To solve this problem, inventors of the electric telegraph invented what we know as Morse Code. [12] This is a simple series of short “on” signals and long “on” symbols, separated by similarly spaced “off” signals.  Each letter in the English alphabet had a series of “dits” and “dahs” representing it. [11] The picture blow shows the current International Morse Code.




Telegraphs were expensive to send and often the sender was charged per letter.  This led to the development of a sort of short hand within the Morse code language.  Commonly used words or phrases were shortened to 1 or 2 letters for ease of sending and cost reasons.  Some of the abbreviations, such as “GM” for “Good Morning” are still used today in texting, etc. [10]


Before the telegraph, the term “communication” was used to describe transportation as well as message transmittal because the movement of messages was dependent on being carried on foot, horseback, ship or rail. Can you imagine telling someone to go and communicate with your uncle across the Atlantic and it meaning that you need to take a ship there to meet him? Although understandable, it wouldn’t be used in normal contexts today. The new way of thinking about communication is the basis for its new name “transmission.” [3]


Today transmission is defined officially as the forwarding of signal traffic over distances that are too great to be simply connected by a twisted pair cable. Techniques available now may be microwave link, satellite link, coaxial cable or optical fiber. All of these channels of communication are using technology divorced of manual and mechanical transportation. Most transmission today is done digitally. [5]

Historical models of Communication and new models of transmission


The communications revolution of the 1830’s generated three unprecedented historical phenomena: an international commodity market, and international commodity depression and, finally, and international commodity discontent. [6]


In the transmission view, communication is a process of transmitting messages at a distance for the purpose of control. The generic models for this are persuasion, attitude change, behavior modification, and socialization through the transmission of information, influence, or conditioning as well as the individual’s choice of what to read or view. These terms have much in common with the use or communication in the 19th century as another term for transportation. It is also related to the 19th century desire to use communication and transportation to extend influence, control, and power over wider distances and greater populations. The transmission view of communication centers on the extension of messages across geography for purposes of control. [7]

Results of Transmission on Life in the West


Perhaps the most immediate effect to life in the West that was made by the telegraph, was the loss of a culture of “tough guy” message carriers.  Some of the great men in history spent at least part of their life as a messenger, or someone who carries a message.  We all remember the story of brave Paul Revere and his famous shout, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” during the Revolutionary war.  Then there were the likes of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and “Pony Bob” Haslam who were notorious loners of the Wild West. [10] All of these men were, and still are, considered to be courageous and tough for braving the elements and the dangers they faced, so that important messages could get from person to person.  Now days, the news of a foreign invasion would fill email inboxes before the first feet touched American soil.  Not a single danger would be faced by the sender of such a message.  The telegraph made the messenger obsolete.  Now the only message carrying was between the local telegraph office and the home of the receiver.  Message delivery was now a job done mostly by young boys who were looking to make a few extra cents. [10] 


Harold Innis characterized modern Western history as starting with a time organized society to a space organized one. Essentially, it was the surrendering of the oral and manuscript tradition and the concern of morals, community, and metaphysics for print and electronics that supported this bias of space. This space orientation can be said to be the focus on real estate, voyage, discovery, movement, expansion, empire, and control. Symbols were replaced to support these goals. Communities were now seen as connected through space, not place – mobile and connected over vast distances. [2]


By contrast, time centered living focused on history, continuity, permanence, and contraction. All these were represented through the symbols of oral, myth, religion, and ritual practices. Their communities were rooted in place. [2]


Implications for Media Ecology


The telegraph is another groundbreaking invention in the history of media that changed the medium in which we communicate. This has changed the way we see the world as well as the way we think, giving us a faster, more national if not a global sense of connection with the rest of humanity. Society was reshaped around this medium and therefore it has affected the societies that embraced it.


Every step along the timeline of communication media involves moving from one form of communication to a more efficient form.  We went from token systems to phonetic alphabets to the printing press, but all of these involved the need to have the object in front of you in order to decipher it.  With the telegraph, for the first time, the medium itself need not be transported in order for the content to be passed along.  The limits were set only by the location of the telegraph lines. 


Today we live in a digital world.  The internet, cellular phones, almost all of the technology that we rely on today in order to run our businesses and lives requires digital technology and is based on the transmission mode of communication.  Today there are products bought and sold such as websites and online gaming that do not even have a physical existence.  All of this commerce is run by money that we never see.  Transmitted from one account to another and recorded digitally with online banking, out money has itself become a digital and arbitrary object.  Nicholas Negroponte describes this idea in his piece entitled “Being Digital.”  Negroponte discusses matter and commerce in terms of bits and atoms. [13] In the early years of media ecology, everything we knew was atoms.  The telegraph brought about this idea of bits.  Newspapers, books, products, etc. are all atoms or that which we can see, touch or feel. [13] Information transmitted via telegraph or today wirelessly is all digitized.  Information passed on in this way is no longer atoms, but bits.  Atoms must be transported physically, where bits can be transmitted digitally at the speed of sound.


This IWC Media Ecology Wiki entry is being written in my home on a laptop computer.  Upon completion it will be transmitted wirelessly to a router in my home, to the internet server whom I subscribe to, to a remote server in an unknown location and displayed for the world to see on a webpage.  All of this information has existed only as bits unless printed out onto paper (atoms).  All of this technology started with the telegraph, when the age of communication transport ended and the age of communication transmission began.   



1. Carey, James W. "Time, Space, and the Telegraph." Communication in History. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2007.


2. Carey, James W. "Space, Time, and Communications: A Tribute to Harold Innis." Communication as Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1992.


3. Carey, James W. "Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph." Communication as Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1992.


4. "Transport." Wikipedia. 9 Apr. 2008



5. "Transmission (telecommunications)." Wikipedia. 9 Apr. 2008



6. Carey, James W. Communication as Culture. The History of the Future. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1992.


7. Carey, James W. Communication as Culture. Mass Communication and Cultural Studies. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1992.


8. "19th Century Bermuda and France Historical Links." Bermuda's Ties with France. 23 Apr. 2008  



9. History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications. 24 Apr. 2008



10. Standage, Tom “Telegraphy – The Victorian Internet.” Communication in History. 6th ed. Boston:  Pearson Allyn & Bacon, 2010.


11. “Morse code” Wikipedia. 14 November 2012



12. "Telegraph" Wikipedia. 13 Nov. 2012



13. Negroponte, Nicholas "Being Digital" 14 Nov. 2012


Original Author:  Chad Chumley

Contributing Author:  Eric Shipley Nov. 2012 


Comments (5)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:41 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Yes that does help there is some stuff that I have left out. But what is a good way to link are topics together? Kinda tring to figure a way to work that out.
-- DerikGarrels (2008-04-11 12:38:26)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:42 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Derik: The easiest way to create an automatic link to another page on this wiki is to just type the "wiki word" in your text. For instance, if you typed the word "TeleVision" (exactly that way), it would automatically become a direct link to Erica's article by that name. Another way to create a link is to choose the text you want to be a link, then click the hyperlink icon on the editor bar at the top. This will bring up a link box. Type or paste in the web address of the page you'd like to link to. It can be an address for a page on this wiki or an outside address. When you click OK to that, it will bring up another box with the word you want to link. Just click OK and you should have an active link. -- JM
-- AdmiN (2008-04-11 16:51:01)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:42 pm on Sep 11, 2008

tell me if that works for ya, i got it linked, just making sure that works for you.
-- DerikGarrels (2008-04-14 12:55:16)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:42 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Chad, for your "New Vision for Society" section, I think it would be nice if you added some of the effects the telegraph had on society, such as the great attempts to cross the English Channel and linke England and France. Just a quick typo fix, in your "Effects of the Telegraph" paragraph, in the second sentence, you have "divorced form physical movement" do you mean "divorced 'from' physical movement"?
-- PriscillaMarlar (2008-04-16 22:09:15)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:42 pm on Sep 11, 2008

I think you did a very good job at linking your topics together and i think it looks great.
-- SarahAnderson (2008-04-24 19:18:08)

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