Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview

13

THE BEGINNINGS OF NETWORKS

THE FIRST WIRED NETWORK

The networking of the world’s personal computers in the 1990s was heralded as creating a virtual new dimension of human experience. On the face of it seems to be an extraordinary claim, given that most technologies in this history have depended on exactly the establishment of such networks by corporeal or incorporeal means. In order to provide a context for outlining the development of the Internet we need to go back to the beginning, to the start of electronic communications, to show how central the building of networks has been to their success and how much the current networking of computers conforms to these historical patterns. In this last part, then, I will be revisiting all the technologies previously discussed, from telegraphy on, to describe how the concept of the network determined their diffusion and effectiveness.

The idea of interconnectivity, even incorporeal interconnectivity, is far from novel. Bell, despite his contribution to the ‘invention’ of the telephone being far less than popular understanding imagines (p. 48), nevertheless was one of the few who clearly saw this potential. On his European honeymoon with Mabel he drew up a prospectus for investors in the companies his father-in-law Hubbard was founding:

At the present time we have a perfect network of gas pipes and water pipes throughout our large cities. We have main pipes laid under the streets communicating by side pipes with various dwellings, enabling the members to draw their supplies of gas and water from a common source. In a similar manner, it is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories, etc., etc., uniting them through the main cable with a central office where the wires could be connected as desired, establishing direct communication

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Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction: A Storm from Paradise 1
  • Part I - Propagating Sound at Considerable Distances 17
  • 1 - The Telegraph 19
  • 2 - Before the Speaking Telephone 30
  • 3 - The Capture of Sound 51
  • Part II - The Vital Spark and Fugitive Pictures 65
  • 4 - Wireless and Radio 67
  • 5 - Mechanically Scanned Television 88
  • 6 - Electronically Scanned Television 100
  • 7 - Television Spin-Offs and Redundancies 126
  • Part III 145
  • 8 - Mechanising Calculation 147
  • 9 - The First Computers 166
  • 10 - Suppressing the Main Frames 189
  • 11 - The Integrated Circuit 206
  • 12 - The Coming of the Microcomputer 227
  • Part IV - The Intricate Web of Trails, This Grand System 241
  • 13 - The Beginnings of Networks 243
  • 14 - Networks and Recording Technologies 261
  • 15 - Communications Satellites 276
  • 16 - The Satellite Era 295
  • 17 - Cable Television 305
  • 18 - The Internet 321
  • Conclusion: the Pile of Debris 337
  • Notes 343
  • References 351
  • Index 361
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