Follow in the footsteps of geeks

[As ever, this is on the BBC News website too]

About ten years ago I went on a family holiday to Cornwall, and one day I dragged my unwilling kids to a delightful but otherwise undistinguished beach so I could point out to them the spot where the world’s first undersea telegraph cable came ashore in 1870.

They were about as impressed by Porthcurno beach as they had been on our trip to the fabled Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo, which my son memorably recalls as ‘mounds in a field’, but I felt a moment of geek joy that has stayed with me since.

That first cable linked Britain to India, and helped create a communications revolution that transformed the world. The telegraph, as Tom Standage makes clear in his excellent book, was ‘The Victorian Internet’, and undersea cables were vital to its development. The cable at Porthcurno was the precursor of the Seacom cable that has just gone live in Kenya, and is a direct antecedent of the complex web of fibre-optic cables that make today’s Internet possible.

Continue reading “Follow in the footsteps of geeks”