Thursday, October 30, 2008

Morse Key and Telegrapher's Paralysis

We think that getting Repetitive Strain Injury from using a mouse all day is a new thing.  Maybe not so.

Mid last century,  there was an affliction known as Telegrapher's Paralysis (also known as Glass Arm).  Like RSI, it was common among telegraph key operators who would frequently be called on to transmit up to 20 words per minute by rapidly pressing the Morse key.

I guess the term "Telegrapher's Paralysis" is obsolete, though it might perhaps be argued that the ailment is not, it's merely caused by a different technology.

In any case, there can be no doubt that morse key and telegraphy is obsolete.  And I don't know about you, but I think it's rather sad that kids today will never know the thrill of receiving a telegram, except by watching old movies.  

My favorite telegram scene is probably in It's a Wonderful Life, right at the end when Sam Wainwright cables to tell George Bailey that he'll cover him the money he needs.  

Would it be the same if it was read from an email?

I doubt it...for a start, you'd lose the "stops" (if you get what I mean), as well as the sense of important urgency.

I mean that was the thing about a telegram - they were only sent at momentous occasions in people's lives: births, deaths, and (in George Bailey's case) bail-outs.  In these days of Twitter it seems we constantly telegraph each other such trivia (hey, I'm watching a TV show!  Eating cornflakes for breakfast!), that the truly important moments are lost in the mix.  If we highlight every word on a page, how will we know which ones really matter?

And I guess that's what a telegram did.  Highlighted the moment - and every word counted.


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