One of the articles that stood out the most to me from last week’s reading is “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph”, in which James W. Carey explores and explains in great details the advent, importance and impacts of the telegraph on the evolution of communication. While I would argue with his claim that the telegraph is neglected in terms of academic researches (there is a significant amount of intensive studies dedicated to the telegraph such as The Victorian Internet: The remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century’s online pioneers by Standage, or The electric telegraph: A social and economic theory by Kieve, I find most of his arguments convincing and well-substantiated. An important concept that Carey discusses, “the effective separation of communication from transportation” (Carey 3) that was initially permitted by the telegraph, is the essential milestone in the course of communication advancement.
No longer are we bound to distance. The revolution of communication along with technology throughout ages is constructed on one fundamental principle: it must be separated from distance. News, speeches, information must “move independently of and faster than physical entities” (Carey 11) We are not the carriers of messages anymore. Everything becomes encoded, transferred via technology, and every conversation or relation now becomes impersonal, even non-human.
Carey refers to the impact of telegraph on communication as the “annihilation of time and space” (Carey 5) Is it still positive and “effective”, this annihilation, when nowadays we are over-surrounded by technology? Time and space are principle dimensions of human life, and with the advent of the telegraph followed by a myriad of technological advancements that aim to ensure human interactions are no longer being constrained by these two aspects, is human life being enhanced, or is it on its way of being the next target for the so-called “annihilation”?
Thanks to the telegraph, and the technology that has followed, distance is no obstacle to me. I am comfortably sitting in my room in New England, talking to my boyfriend in Paris, watching a movie with him at the same time, as if this physical distance of almost 4,000 miles did not exist. Time and space no longer exist. On this note, this annihilation is innocently positive and constructive to human communication.
However, now, with the widespread of communication platforms on the internet, we tend to prefer spending our time communicating virtually, encoding each thought and emotion to be transferred via wires, to another screen somewhere. I was eating dinner with my friend and all she did was browsing her Facebook and talking to someone from a far distance. But someone like me, in immediate time and space in relation to hers, seems not to exist anymore.
I came to think that the impact of the telegraph is on one hand “the annihilation of time and space”, and on another hand, contrastively the enforcement of the sense of “time and space”. We appreciate communication when we can feel the distance is far enough, and tend to neglect it when we think it is in immediate distance.
There seems to be a trade-off when it comes to technological advancements. Time and space are, effectively or not, traded for a technology that moves news and communication faster than physical distance. Printed books are bit by bit traded for a more widespread use of ebooks and digital material. Skype calls are replacing physical meetings. The first “annihilation” is that of time and space as Carey discusses, so will there be another as the face of technology is constantly changing? Perhaps it is already happening, that our independence is being slowly annihilated, being replaced by a reliance on technology in every aspect of human life.
James Carey, “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph,” Communication & Media Studies Collection