The Internet Of A Hundred Years Ago

In many of my presentations, I have pointed out that the Internet is still very much in its early stages. There are tremendous gaps in the availability of high speed, low latency Internet everywhere. It will only be at some point in the future that we could truly expect to have a visual conversation with almost anyone, almost anywhere on the globe.

Beyond expanding connectivity, there are other factors standing in the way of ubiquitous high quality visual communications.

First, the software – the interface that users have to deal with – is quite awkward. There are still too many instances where software, like Skype, just doesn’t work well or freezes or otherwise discourages people from everyday use.

Second, more important, the mindset or culture of users seems not to have changed yet to readily accommodate visual conversations over the Internet everywhere. You surely know someone who just doesn’t want to communicate this way. There used to be many people who thought the telephone shouldn’t replace face-to-face meetings and trying to do so was rude and/or too expensive.

Indeed, I use a rough parallel that we are today with the Internet about where we were with the telephone at the end of the 1920s. That was more than fifty years after the telephone had been invented. Of course, we’re not even fifty years into the life of the Internet.

Although the parallel between phone network and Internet is fairly obvious, it is enlightening or amusing to see history repeat itself. Here is a 1916 advertisement that hails how the telephone is “annihilating both time and space” – what we’ve also heard in more recent years about the Internet.


While there were many articles written at the time about the impact of telephones on society, the economy and life, even in the 1920s (or 30s or 40s or 50s …), telephone usage was not taken for granted. Among other things, long distance calling was not widely considered something most people would do.


Mobile telephony was discussed but not really in existence yet.


There was even a product that anticipated today’s Twitter and similar feeds – or maybe it was just a concept for a product, since vaporware was around even a hundred years ago.


The chart below shows the pattern of historical adoption of telephones in the US from 1876 until 1981.


From the perspective of 1981, never mind 2016, the first fifty years of telephony were the early age.

And since 1981? We’ve seen mobile phones overtake land lines in worldwide usage and become much more than devices for just talking to people.

So imagine what the next 100 years of Internet development will bring.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


[note this is an updated version of an earlier post in the beginning of 2014]

What Did People Think Of Old Technologies When They Were New?

As Mark Twain said: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."  But I’ve observed before that it seems we lose our sense of history when thinking about new technology.  

A good corrective is a 25-year old classic book by University of Pennsylvania Professor Carolyn Marvin.  Its title is "When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electronic Communications In The Late Nineteenth Century” and it recalls the days when the telegraph, telephone, even electric lights, were the exciting new technologies.

(Although this post if focused on one aspect, the book as a whole provides a broad-ranging historical view of the interplay of communications technologies and society.)

Here are some excerpts that sound a lot like what we hear now about the Internet, social media, texting, etc.

Concerns About Privacy

She notes how people were worried that “intimate family secrets would be displayed to the world” and ask “How would family members keep personal information to themselves?”

Concerns About Family Breakdown

Harper’s in 1893 felt that “Public amusements increase in splendor and frequency, but private joys grow rare and difficult, and even the capacity for them seems to be withering.”

The Web Brings The World To You

From an 1889 article in the Electrical Review: “the time will come when so far as seeing objects are concerned, one can make a tour of Europe without going out of his own house.”

The Non-Stop News Cycle From Everywhere

From an editor of another magazine: “things [news events] are done in a dozen hours, and in another dozen men are talking … of these great events, not only in Paris and Berlin, but in the mosques of Cairo, … in the shops of Sydney … and at the same instant of time every human heart is quivering with shock of these great events…  All corners of the earth are joined, kindled, fused.”

Attitudes Of Some Executives Of The Phone Company

She notes that the Bell Company wasn’t really interested in widespread adoption, but preferred “a limited service at high prices”.

Piracy And Hacking

The magazine, Electrical Review, complained: “The telephone is apparently looked upon as a public convenience, and quite often in smaller cities a single telephone is expected to answer for an entire block”.

Technological Utopianism, Often Attributed To Internet Leaders

She quotes from the Scientific American in 1880 about how the telephone will lead to: “nothing less than a new organization of society – a state of things in which every individual, however secluded, will have at call every other individual”

How The Global Network Leads To Peace And Freedom

She quotes Nicolas Tesla in 1904 about how wireless (radio) communications can be: “efficient in enlightening the masses, particularly in still uncivilized countries”.  And his earlier statement: “It is by abolishing all the barriers which separate nations and countries that civilization is best furthered.”

What lessons about new technologies would you draw from the old?  How will people think about today’s new technologies a hundred years from now?

© 2013 Norman Jacknis


Video: How To Get Fit For The Future Economy

A few weeks ago, in a post “How Intelligent Communities Get Fit For The Future Innovation Economy”, I summarized my keynote presentation at the Annual Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum.

If you’d like to see a video of the keynote presentation that ICF recorded, go to

Unfortunately, the ICF staff also cut out all of the brief video clips that engaged the audience, including holographic-like telepresence, laser projections on city walls, virtual/physical interactions on Times Square and the like.  (I suspect they were worried about copyright issues, although they needn’t have worried.)

If you’re interested in seeing those videos, in their full length, you can find them as follows:

As always, please send me your comments and observations (

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


Telegraph vs. Internet: Which Had Greater Impact?

2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  You may remember just two things about this period from your high school history class.  First, in an act of ignominy for the Americans, the British burned down the capital.  Second, the war ended with the resounding defeat of the British by the heroic General Andrew Jackson in January 1815, in what was the war’s only set-piece battle between the opposing sides.  Jackson eventually rode this victory into the Presidency.

There is only one problem with this battle.  It took place after the war was over.  The previous month, in Europe, the two sides had agreed to peace.  But in those days, communications was so slow that word of the peace didn’t reach New Orleans until February 1815.

Fast forward, approximately forty-eight years later, to the Civil War.  In the period between these two wars, in 1831, Morse thought up the idea for the electronic telegraph.  The Union Army had mastered its quick deployment, so that in 1863 while sitting in Washington, President Lincoln could read almost real time reports from the battlefields many miles away. 

This was a dramatic increase in the speed of communications.  Not all that many decades later, telegraph lines and cables would unite the world.  Yet this did not fundamentally change the way people worked or lived or governed themselves.

So consider 2011, when the US Navy Seals got Osama Bin Laden.  There was a tweet about helicopters within several minutes, but the author didn’t know why the helicopters were nearby.  The first tweet with some confirmation came about forty-five minutes before President Obama made his announcement.

Now think back about forty-eight years before to November 22, 1963 and the assassination of President John Kennedy.  The news was out quickly all over television and radio and newspapers.  Walter Cronkite famously told the viewers of CBS News that the President had died thirty-eight minutes before.

Unlike the 19th century examples, there was no dramatic speed up in the reporting of these two more recent events separated by roughly forty-eight years.  While we may have more sources of information in more places now than in 1963, word doesn’t get out all that much faster.  You could argue that the Telegraph had a greater impact on communications than the Internet.

Yet many of us have the feeling that our world has been changed by this communications.  Why is that?

I think it has to do with the changing nature of the work we do.  In the mid-19th century, more than three quarters of Americans made things or grew food.  In 2011, less than a quarter do so and the rest of us provide services – and increasingly intangible services, including ideas, knowledge, entertainment and the like which is delivered digitally.  Because better digital communications directly speeds up the delivery of these services, we see the impact more.  It’s the increasing availability of high quality communications, in conjunction with these significant socio-economic trends, which will continue to change our lives. 

[picture credit for Battle of New Orleans]

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

Symmetrical Broadband Will Create The Real Cloud Computing

Symmetrical Broadband Will Create The Real Cloud Computing

Government Consists Of Conversations

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, December 6, 2009.]

More than ten years ago, in what many governments considered the early days of the Internet, a now classic book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, was written for and about the Internet.  The authors began the book with what they called 95 Theses, which they hoped that businesses would follow as they established a presence on the Internet – instead of using the Internet the way they had used all other forms of public communications.

These statements, though, have as much, if not more, relevance to government.  So – with extraordinary respect for the original authors – I decided to take their basic 95 Theses and substitute public sector words where they had words from the business world.  The result is below.  Hopefully this will trigger some new perspectives on your part as well.

  1. Governing consists of conversations.
  2. Society consists of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  8. In both internetworked citizenry and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  10. As a result, citizens are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked society changes people fundamentally.
  11. People in networked societies have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from government agencies. So much for government rhetoric about the value of their professional way of doing things.
  12. There are no secrets. The networked citizenry knows more than governments do about their own services and programs. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  13. What’s happening to citizens as a whole is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The State” is the only thing standing between the two.
  14. Governments do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, governments sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of government —the sound of mission statements and press releases —will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
  16. Already, governments that speak in the language of the spin, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  17. Governments that assume online citizens are the same citizens that used to watch their messages on television are kidding themselves.
  18. Governments that don’t realize their citizens are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  19. Public leaders can now communicate with their citizens directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  20. Governments need to realize their citizens are often laughing. At them.
  21. Government officials need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
  22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the government web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
  23. Governments attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their citizens actually care about.
  24. Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent nation/state/county/city“—do not constitute a position.
  25. Government officials need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
  26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Governments are deeply afraid of their citizens.
  27. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep citizens at bay.
  28. Most news releases, press conferences, and other government “messaging” programs are based on the fear that the citizens might see what’s really going on inside the government.
  29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”
  30. Patriotic loyalty is the government version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart citizens are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.
  31. Networked citizens can change which government officials they prefer overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own service reductions, furloughs and layoffs taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”
  32. Smart citizens will find public leaders who speak their own language.
  33. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
  34. To speak with a human voice, public leaders must share the concerns of their communities.
  35. But first, they must belong to a community.
  36. Governments must ask themselves where their bureaucratic cultures end.
  37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no support among the citizens.
  38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
  39. The community of discourse is the whole community.
  40. Public leaders who do not belong to a community of discourse will no longer be leaders.
  41. Governments make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against threats than against their own citizens and workforce.
  42. As with networked citizens, people are also talking to each other directly inside the government—and not just about rules and regulations, executive directives, budgets.
  43. Such conversations are taking place today on departmental intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
  44. Governments typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other procedural information that workers are doing their best to ignore.
  45. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked organizational conversation.
  46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
  47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.
  48. When intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked citizens.
  49. Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
  50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
  51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
  52. Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills the effectiveness of government.
  53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the government. One with the citizens.
  54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  55. As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked societies.
  56. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.
  57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  58. If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few governments have yet wised up.
  59. However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive government agencies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
  60. This is suicidal. Citizens want to talk to public leaders.
  61. Sadly, the part of the government a networked citizenry wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.
  62. Citizens do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the bureaucratic firewall.
  63. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those citizens. We want to talk to you.
  64. We want access to your government information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.
  65. We’re also the workers who make your agencies go. We want to talk to citizens directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
  66. As citizens, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless reports and third-hand studies to introduce us to each other?
  67. As citizens, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
  68. The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?
  69. Maybe you’re impressing your media acolytes or your contributors or your peers. Maybe you’re impressing Wall Street. You’re not impressing us.
  70. If you don’t impress us, your supporters are going to be wasting their effort and money. Don’t they understand this? If they did, they wouldn’t let you talk that way.
  71. Your tired notions of “the citizens” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your policies —perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere.
  72. We like this new polity much better. In fact, we are creating it.
  73. You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
  74. We are immune to public relations spin. Just forget it.
  75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
  76. We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay taxes for. Got a minute?
  77. You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.
  78. You want us to pay taxes? We want you to pay attention.
  79. We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.
  80. Don’t worry, you can still hold power. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind.
  81. Have you noticed that, in itself, power is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
  82. Your services are broke. Why? We’d like to ask the guys who deliver them. Your vision for society makes no sense. We’d like to have a chat with the President/Prime Minister/Governor/Mayor. What do you mean she’s not in?
  83. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
  84. We know some people from your government. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?
  85. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.
  86. When we’re not busy being your “voters,” many of us are your people. We’d rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking to the citizen is the Public Information Officer’s job.
  87. We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our breath.
  88. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our votes. Government and politics is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
  89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other public leader will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
  90. Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most legislative proceeding, more entertaining than any photo opportunity, and certainly more true-to-life than the government web sites we’ve been seeing.
  91. Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Public leaders that have no part in this world, also have no future.
  92. Governments are spending [spent] billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this citizen timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
  93. We’re both inside the government and outside it. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
  94. To traditional governments, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

You can find most of the original book at

© 2011 Norman Jacknis