The Spark In The Wires

If you are using a cellphone to read this story, consider how it all started. 17 May 2017 is Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This day commemorates the signature of the first International Telegraph Convention, which led to the creation of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The day has a history of over 150 years to the time of Samuel Morse and the first message sent down a telegraph line.

On 24 May 1844, Morse took a telegraph line and sent his first message, from Washington to Baltimore, 62 kilometres away. These single cables were in their infancy and couldn’t cross national borders to support military security. As a result, sending a message to a neighbouring country entailed the text being transcribed (from Morse code), translated (if necessary), hand delivered over the border, and transmitted over the telegraph network of the neighbouring country.

Governments tried to short-circuit this lengthy process by signing the first UN International Telegraph Convention on 17 May 1865. In 1876, just over a decade later, the telephone was invented. It took another three decades before radio emerged, then a further decade before television.

Now we live an information age where most people in the world are connected through wireless systems running their entire lives and interpersonal communications in a virtual environment at the speed of light. Work, business, personal and social relationships are supported through new technologies irrespective of their location.

Telecommunication has made it possible for social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to thrive, giving people not only the ability to stay connected but voice their opinions and produce media themselves.

Today most people in the world have endless information at their fingertips via their mobile phones.

Yet, the same technologies have created new forms of inequality, digital haves and have nots. Globally there is a move to use digital to address some of the greatest social problems of our time. Marking this day in 2016 the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

“Let us resolve to harness the power of technology to create a better future for all … These technologies provide smart solutions to address climate change, hunger, poverty and other global challenges. They are key instruments for providing mobile health care and access to education, empowering women, improving efficiencies in industrial and agricultural production, and safeguarding the environment.”

Click here to learn more about the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day

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