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The impact on physical movement and trade

The telegraph made little direct impact on most people's lives. It was a 'specialist' technology, owned by companies and operated by professionals. But the indirect impact of the telegraph was huge. Things started working more quickly and efficiently, starting with the railways and quickly extending to the transport of goods and materials.

Impact on prices and trade
The greater speed and reliability of steamships and railways meant that people were no longer waiting years or months for shipments to come - but rather weeks or days.

The rise of telecommunications with the telegraph meant the new faster transport could be harnessed and exploited in markets that moved more efficiently and rapidly. For the first time, detailed information about shipments could be sent faster than the goods themselves.
The rise of market sensitive information
Advance information eased shipments, helped markets grow and reduced price fluctuations. It also meant there was a value in the information, as well as the goods.

Knowing when a ship or train would arrive, and what was on it, was market sensitive information - a message with financial value. This made people understand there was real value in knowledge - and in knowing things first.
The impact on business
Telecommunications changed business. The rise of most multinational corporations date from the later 19th century, when the telegraph made it possible to run regional operations from a central head office. Later, international lines made it possible to run overseas subsidiaries.

But the greatest impact was in the creation of international markets in stocks and commodities. These markets moved faster. Sometimes that was a recipe for disaster.

The impact on society

Each new communications technology has had a greater impact on society than the one before. The telegraph changed society indirectly, by transforming the workings of government and industry. But the telephone and radio had direct impacts on people's working and social lives.

The news explosion
For hundreds of years, mail coaches and couriers were the typical means of getting dispatches back to newspapers. But from the late 1850s onwards all that changed.

The electric telegraph brought information transmission time down from weeks or days to hours and minutes. The faster flow of news from around the world created a new market for daily newspapers. Feeding these newspapers with much of their news was a new breed of businesses for the telegraph age - the wire agencies.
Family and personal communications
The early telegraph was only really used for business and official messages. Most ordinary people relied chiefly on posted letters to exchange news and views with their friends and families. But telegrams became the channel of last resort for really important and urgent personal news.

The telephone was also slow to make much impact on social and family life - but when it did, the impact was profound.
Law and order
Faster communications aided the fight against crime, making it increasingly difficult for criminals to disappear or to use distance to evade justice.

At the same time, however, it has also allowed them to plan more carefully and has made new types of crime possible.
Wireless and tv
Wireless and television broadcasting helped to create a sense of a more equal society. They also created a sense of shared experience, uniting whole sections of national populations. The General Strike of 1926 saw newspapers off the streets and wireless the only source of news.

The Second World War was the first global conflict to be broadcast, with populations following the course of the war via their radio sets. Propaganda became a weapon of war, fighting to maintain the morale of one's own population - whilst undermining that of the enemy. Later still, television news created dramatic moments in time that were shared by millions.
From the 1950s onwards, television began to unite global populations. For the first time, there was simultaneous proof of landmark events: wars, crises, assassinations, triumphs and tragedies, with the same images shared around the world.

Television also enabled global participation and celebration in world festivals and sporting events. By the end of the 20th century, we felt as if we really were living in a Global Village.

The impact on working life

Telecommunications was the cutting edge business of the late 19th century and the foremost growth industry of the past 100 years. From zero in 1837, it expanded to become one of the biggest businesses in the world by the mid 20th century.

Behind the power of the dial or button, lay huge communities of people who kept the networks running. Here are some of their stories.

Working conditions
Telecommunications is an industry extending back over 160 years. In that time the conditions under which people work have been transformed, reflecting changes in society.
Women in telecomms
From the days of the telegraph, telecommunications has played a leading role in integrating women into the world of work.

First as operators, then as supervisors, and now in every area of the business, women have played a leading role in telecommunications.
Safety and training
Telecommunications may not seem a particularly dangerous industry - but it's always had an element of risk linked with it, usually relating to working with high voltage electricity or on top of high structures - or both!

Health and safety has been a major preoccupation, with campaigns aimed at users and customers - but more particularly at staff.
The rise of the call centre
Call centres - love them or hate them, there seems to be no escaping the knowledge that each time you lift a telephone to call Big Business, you will end up in one. Of all the developments of modern life, call centres have probably done more than any other to change the telephone experience.

Just as The Post Office used to employ 1% of British workers, now call centres have taken over as the most common working experience. Why are there so many of them? Why is it that almost every organisation now uses them?

Impact on government

Telecommunications has had a wide and profound impact on the way governments operate. By the 1860s, the telegraph had begun to change the machinery of government, making it easier for administrators to exercise central control, and changing the relationship between nations. Before long, the advent of fast news and mass information had also begun to make governments more accountable to public opinion.

Strategic implications of telecommunications
The telegraph and telephone facilitated more centralised control over nation states - and later over whole continents or global empires. At one end of the scale, this changed the structure of governments and administrations. At the other, it changed the relationship between government and governed - particularly in communities remote from the central seats of power.

As the machinery of government became increasingly reliant on the telegraph, so administrations around the world came to understand the strategic power of communications.
Impact on diplomacy
The telegraph, telephone and wireless also affected world society - especially the relationships between nations. For the first time, governments could talk to each other in real time through the medium of diplomatic telegrams between embassies. Alliances became easier to manage - with provisions that would take effect far more quickly. The results of this would be seen during the great power crises of the early 20th century - culminating in August 1914.

In peace and war

With telecommunications, the further you go, the more dramatic the impact. Thus the telegraph, telephone and wireless altered the relationship between communities and nations more dramatically than the relationships within them. Perhaps the greatest impact of the telegraph was the way it changed diplomacy, power politics and the balances between peace and war.

Changing the face of war
A major effect of telecommunications has been acceleration: the faster information can pass back and forth, the more rapidly things can happen; from the escalation of diplomatic crises to their resolution - or the slide into war.
Enter the code breakers
Telegraph lines were essentially safe from eavesdropping from enemy powers - so long as the whole line ran along secure routes. Radio signals, however, went out into the ether and could be intercepted by anyone with an aerial, even hundreds of miles away.

This meant any messages could be intercepted - and deciphered if you had the skill. As the telegraph and radio became increasingly integral to operations of war from the 1860s onwards, so a new branch of military strategy evolved - the art of telecommunications interception and deception.
Encryption in the Internet age
Today, every Internet user has access to encryption. Many Net transactions are encoded automatically without us being aware of it happening.

There is an ongoing war being fought in cyberspace - between those who want to see all Net traffic transparent to law enforcement and other agencies of the state - and those who believe that absolute privacy and security are not only fundamental rights but also commercially vital to the future development of the Internet.
Policing the information age
In the Telecommunication Age, information has become the most important commodity of all. Access to information has become a goal in itself for a new breed of criminal - hackers and virus pranksters - whose aim is to break into other people's systems. Keeping them out has become one of the fastest growing communications industries of all.

Shrinking the world

The advent of live radio and television link-ups between continents has helped people become better acquainted internationally. As the technology has evolved it has brought ordinary people together from different parts of the world to make it a smaller place.

We now share in global shocks, global tragedies, global responses and global parties.

Global communications
The arrival of satellite television and telephone links was perhaps the defining moment in the creation of the global village.

Being able to share television images and events with a global audience of two billion or more completely transforms the scale of international events - making each one potentially world-changing.

The new technology allows families to remain in contact, as they become more widely dispersed. At the same time, businesses have expanded their supply and customer bases beyond recognition.
Foreign aid
The rise of 'instant' news, made possible by telecommunications, places people in wealthy and peaceful countries in contact with those less fortunate. The pain and horror of repression, conflict, famine, drought and natural disaster, relayed from the trouble spots of the world, began to stir consciences and fuel demands for governments to 'do something.'

From the 19th century onwards, this awareness has had an increasingly powerful effect on international politics and society.
The impact of the Internet
With the rise of the Internet, the global village has now gone online, making the villagers not just spectators but active participants.

The Internet has shortened the link between stimulus and response, enabling ordinary people to share feelings, ideas and reactions to events within minutes. It's also created a network over which far more than words can be exchanged.
The information society
Thanks to telecommunication, we now increasingly live in a world where we can know all that we need - and maybe more than we want to.

The Information Society defines everything: education, family, work and culture. It changes the way we think about what we do and how we relate to others.
fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

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The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

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