Morse and Edison… real hackers

Posted on Wednesday 26 July 2006

Working my way down my summer reading list on Tom Igoe’s hit parade I have jumped from a heavy read to my latest book, which is a real breeze and pleasure to read.

Tom Standage’s book “The Victorian Internet” is a tale of the invention and perfection of the Telegraph. As I have stated before in talking about the Evolution of Useful Things, the path to a useful invention need not be the first or original idea on the subject. Samual Morse started his career as an aspiring portrait painter. While on board a ship Morse spoke with another passenger who followed the developing Telegraph and after a discussion on using electricity to electrify wires and carry messages Morse started writing in a notebook as if he was the first to think of the idea.

Which is one of the interesting points that ITP seems to reinforce. The first idea is that an idea need not be original, as the original expression or response to that idea often is what makes the concept work. The second idea that I picked up from Danny Rozin is that a kind of self imposed ignorance allows one to work in isolation so that the natural progression of ideas come from within. I believe more now than in my youth that the unique invention that comes from one mind is a myth. I do believe in many minds working from a set of circumstances that are ripe for innovation.

The inventing mind is also a flexible one, ready to shift and adapt. Another tale in the book chronicles the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The technical lead of the project is described as incompetent, and later we see the breadth of this mans ignorance, but worse still is his pride and stubbornness.

The Victorian Internet and a great read with many insights into the process of invention and many parallels to our modern internet.

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