Friday, February 03, 2006

Unusual Death... and the Afterlife

It's not often that an entire way of communicating goes away. Especially one that was well into its second century.

So it's both notable and inevitable that Western Union ended its telegram service. I'm amazed that it lasted this long. I don't think I have ever, in my life, received or sent a telegram. In fact, I thought it had died a long time ago.

No, Western Union told Computerworld, 20,000 telegrams were sent in 2005, certainly off its peak in the 30s and 40s. I also recall that when Britain handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese, the exiting Governor sent a "cable" back to the Queen. I remember thinking "how quaint!"

One of my former clients used to work on telco hotels, those main switching stations that major telecommunications companies use to route voice and data traffic. The guy in charge pointed out to us that most of the voice and data traffic in New England travels through one building in downtown Boston, the one that used to be the Western Union building.

Why? Because the original telegraph lines all fed into there, and those became the backbone for faster and more efficient cables, essentially acting as the information superhighway with an exit in downtown Boston. While WU used to send out telegram delivery boys, now it's up to us to use a PC and a broadband Internet connection to access those main trunks directly.

So the telegram may be dead, but the ghost lives on.

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