Samuel Morse, are you listening? | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Samuel Morse, are you listening?

The first successful long distance electronic telegraph message was sent 174 years ago on May 24, 1844

editorials Updated: May 25, 2018 18:12 IST
From that first long distance message to video chats across the diameter of the earth seems a hop, a skip, and a jump away.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mental health professionals now recognise internet addiction as a legitimate problem of our times. Teenagers across the world are being recommended ways of coping with and preventing such addiction. Less than two centuries ago, messages that were not physically transported from one place to another could only be sent as far as a semaphore tower that could be clearly seen. It was not until May 24, 1844 — 174 years ago — that the first successful long-distance electronic telegraph message was sent, revolutionising communication technologies forever, and laying the foundation for this constant, continuous communication. Samuel Morse sent the message “What hath God wrought.” from the Supreme Court chamber in Washington to his assistant Albert Vail about 60 km away in Baltimore. This 19-letter message was then transmitted back by Vail, proving the success of the venture. This was the first time that it had become possible for information to travel such distances faster than a human physically carrying the message.

With the development of Morse’s telegraph machine, it became possible to send messages across cities and countries by means of short electrical signals. This Morse Code soon became the standard of long-distance communication and was adapted to radio communication as well, when short and long tone pulses were sent to resemble the electronic dots and dashes. As communication technology became more sophisticated, it began to take on the role of information provider as well; and once the world arrived at the convergence of audio-visual networks with computer networks, a new term had to be created to describe it: ICT or Information and Communication Technologies.

From that first long-distance message to video chats across the diameter of the earth, it all seems a hop, a skip, and a jump away. So far have we come in terms of communication technologies that we now have government-approved de-addiction programmes to wean people away from communication devices. The internet — that vast alternative universe in which space, national boundaries, human perversions, and cute pet videos seemingly have no limits, owes its existence to that pioneer who found a way to translate messages into electronic signals and then back again. Deep beneath the layers of sophistication, Morse’s code still informs the way we communicate. While we cannot lay the blame of our addictions upon Morse, we must acknowledge his immense contribution in changing the world of communication.