How We Got Here (27)

June 15, 2014

Communications satellites

It is safe to say that there could have been no internet without communications satellites. Those old enough to remember the first 15-minute Telstar broadcast in 1962 will remember it as the start of a new age. America broadcasting images to Europe; Europe broadcasting images to America, and it was all live! Until that moment, images got transported from one side of the North Atlantic to the other only be being physically carried. From that moment, things changed. Within a few years a network of communications satellites had been launched, and for the first time the world was linked electronically. Telephones, televisions, computers – they could all communicate faster and cheaper, and in many cases for the first time, because they removed the need for expensive ground links such as undersea cables.

As the century progressed, this emerging satellite web was put to new use. In the third world, it was a great destroyer of the effects of isolation. Now villages in the middle of Africa or India or Greater Nowhere were within reach of the entire world’s culture as soon as they had a laptop, a satellite link, and a source of electricity. In the developed world, the contents of the world’s print and pictorial libraries were soon being digitized, bringing the vision of a day when all the world’s cultural heritage would be shared, and thus would feed into a truly global culture. And all of this, in turn, depended on the prior invention of television, but before we discuss television, we need to discuss one of the century’s cultural icons, one of the men who captured the world’s imagination.



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