Top positive review
History Repeats Itself
on October 7, 2003
Tom Standage is onto something. It seems that everything we know about the Internet today, we've already done before. The turn of this century was a lot like the turn of the last century.
"The Victorian Internet" is all about our world and the invention of the Telegraph. As cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson once pointed out, the telegraph was the world's first global digital network. It's when we started trying to push voice down the copper lines that we mucked things up.
In this book, you'll find technological wizardry, geek pioneers, global aspirations, long-distance romances, and online scams. You'll discover what 19th-Century chat was like. There are growing pains. We see fear for the future and fear of moral decline. The Telegraph represented a sudden, massive interconnection of people thousands of miles apart, and the effects of this overnight deluge of information is clear in reading. You have to remember that these were people used to feeling safe in their own homes, blissfully unaware of each other, and only vaguely informed of events going on in other countries.
Standage does a nice job of hitting on the hottest topics of our time, without hitting the reader over the head to make a point. Cybergeeks will love his stops at Cryptography, code, and the other programming-like solutions people came up with to solve their problems. Fans of history will be amused by the parallels between life then and now as "old media" learns to stop worrying and embrace "new media".
In a narrative style that resembles the British TV series "Connections", Standage shows us what each side of the Atlantic was up to, the race to connect the world, and the sheer determination and boundless optimism that made it all happen. There are also interesting tidbits along the way: we get facts about Samuel Morse and Thomas Edison that most history books ignore. There are anecdotes from 19th-century daily life that we can easily identify with today. All of it combines in a way that is easy to read, decently-paced, and fun to think about and discuss with others.
I give this book 5 stars for being clever with presentation and for keeping the various threads together without seeming fragmented. Tom Standage moves us through history without jumping around, and references earlier sections to remind us of where things are going. If you like history, technology, or even the geekier topics of machine logic, programming, and cryptography, this book makes an excellent read.