Telephone, Telegraph, Internet: New Technology, Same Complaints?

I grew up in Waterloo, Ontario, home to the headquarters of “Research in Motion” – the maker of the venerable Blackberry. In a city where a large proportion of the population worked for RIM, including many friends of mine, I encountered a unique phenomenon. Although the Blackberry has lost much of its luster in the past year, it was not too long ago referred to as the “Crackberry,” denoting the fact that its users were often addicted to the device.

Despite the rabid addiction many of my friends had, I would often hear a growing number of common complaints – not about the device itself, but about the effect it was having on their lives.. Mainly, that with 24/7 email connectivity many people felt that they were pressured to work outside of normal work hours; that they could never truly leave work at the office; that the ability to be reached on the device at any time infringed on their privacy and sense of “down time.”

Although we think that we live in an age of cutting edge communications study, that has no historic parallel, this is a false assumption. Previous communication methods such as the telegraph and telephone revolutionized the world then just as thoroughly as the Internet does our world today. I would be interested to discover whether during the advent of the telegraph and telephone people had the same sort of concerns with the introduction of those technologies into their daily lives as we do today. Did some become “addicted” to using the telegraph to communicate? Did society lament that the ability to communicate through the telephone was diminishing our social mores and written communication skills? Did businessmen complain that with a telephone at home their bosses could reach them during off-work hours and that this increased their level of stress?
I intend to sort through historical newspaper articles to see what the general public was talking about with the introduction of each subsequent technology. Using digital tools such as “The Online Corpus of Time Magazine” I will be able to organize such a wealth of newspaper articles and mine them for keywords related to my subject of study. Once an appropriate sampling of articles have been obtained, I intend to use digital tools such as “Wordle” to see what types of words people were using to describe these new communications technology.

The purpose of this project is to make use of new digital analysis tools in order to help us understand how people in the past reacted to new communications technologies.

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