Long before widespread communication technologies, particularly the telegraph which came about in the 1830s, long-distance communication was dependent upon material mediums through which a message could be transmitted. Whether sending a letter, walking, riding horseback, or even travelling by train, communicating a message couldn’t be done without the presence of a physical carrier, in one form or another, to transport the idea across both space and time.
While the invention of the telegram was a groundbreaking innovation in the communication industry, the people of that time were extremely unfamiliar with this form of technology, and hence, struggled to understand how the physical medium carrying the message remains, while the information component is decoupled and sent elsewhere.
During the Frankel Prussian War of 1870, the mother of a frontline soldier approached the telegraph office to send a message to her son, wishing him to be safe and to eat his soup, before presenting to the telegrapher a jar of the broth to send alongside the message. While the message was able to be sent to the woman’s son, the jar of soup remained, with the woman struggling to understand how her physical message was able to be transmitted, yet not the physical jar of soup – “What about the soup?”.
Despite the humour found in this interaction nowadays, this service and technology was completely unfamiliar and new to the people of that time. Arguably, the invention of the telegraph was even more confronting than that of the internet in the 1960s, as it was the very first instance where a message or idea was able to be detached from the physical medium carrying it, and transmitted at incredible speeds across space and time.