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June 17, 2013 10:43 AM   Subscribe

India to send world's last telegram

Mr. Ram once learned the Morse code technology for telegraphy, but today oversees staff who type out and send telegrams over a Web software. He tries to put up a spirited defense of the obsolete technology in the age of the smartphone, arguing that mobile penetration is much lower than it is hyped to be. Mobile penetration is indeed a dismal 26 percent, but even in the remotest village, at least someone has a phone.
posted by not_the_water (69 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Brilliant post title.
posted by bearwife at 10:44 AM on June 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


Eh, I stole it from the article ;)
posted by not_the_water at 10:45 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mobile penetration is indeed a dismal 26 percent, but even in the remotest village, at least someone has a phone.

Pray that one person in the village isn't a complete i-got-mine-fuck-you shithead, I guess.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of all the old-timey things I've wish I could do, this is the only one left I haven't already done. And now it's gone forever.
posted by grubi at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


.- .-.. ...- .. -.. .-
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Doesn't sound much like a telegram if the telegrams are being written on a computer, then printed on a computer printer. Sounds like an email to me.
posted by pibeandres at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only telegram I ever sent was to India, on the occasion of a friend's wedding. Huh.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:58 AM on June 17, 2013


I once sent a "lightning" (so labeled) telegram from Kullu in the state of Himachal Pradesh. They guaranteed same day delivery!

Not intended as a derail: As for mobile penetration being "a dismal 26 %", chalk that up to the incredibly corrupt Indian government and it's state and municipal officials, who are on the take for just about everything, most of whom have also done their very best to forestall educational development in their country. The Indian government should be ashamed - deeply ashamed - of itself for letting stuff like this happen, given the raw potential for development in India. Every last one of those officials should be run out of the country, or jailed.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:58 AM on June 17, 2013


DONT STOP BELIEVING STOP
posted by davejay at 10:59 AM on June 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


.. - / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / .- .-.. .-- .- -.-- ... / .... .- ...- . / .- / .--. .-.. .- -.-. . / .. -. / .... .- -- / .-. .- -.. .. ---
posted by Fezboy! at 11:00 AM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


grubi:
> Of all the old-timey things I've wish I could do, this is the only one left
> I haven't already done. And now it's gone forever.

That may be, but perhaps you could console yourself by sending a radiogram.

All you have to do is, immediately after the recipient's telephone number, put text like:

OP NOTE DELIVER IN PERSON WEARING TOP HAT TAILCOAT AND RIDICULOUS GOGGLES

(de NF3H)
posted by sourcequench at 11:02 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


.

I had to.
posted by phunniemee at 11:02 AM on June 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


WHAT HATH GOD FORGOTTEN WAS STILL OPERATING?
posted by tommasz at 11:05 AM on June 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


Relax, chaps! Methinks telegramography is still alive and well.
posted by doublesix at 11:07 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doesn't sound much like a telegram if the telegrams are being written on a computer, then printed on a computer printer. Sounds like an email to me.

Last mile hand delivery is the difference. It's email with physical mail and that's a brilliant combination. I wish it existed here. Like, I could email a letter to my relatives and some of them could get it in physical print. OR, my computer challenged relatives would be limited to paper but I could read their letters on the computer. OR I could subscribe to mailing lists but read them on paper during moments of leisure away from the computer.
posted by DU at 11:09 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I got a telegram and it wasn't delivered on a single-cylinder motorcycle with a sprung seat by a rider wearing paned goggles, leather helmet and flared-hip breeches I would demand an investigation
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 AM on June 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


In India, telegraph services were introduced by William O'Shaughnessy, a British doctor and inventor who used a different code for the first time in 1850 to send a message.

Interesting.

"O'Shaughnessy had gone to India in 1833 as a 24-year-old assistant surgeon with the East India Company. There he began experimenting with electricity. He invented an electric motor and a silver chloride battery. Then, in 1839, he set up a 13½-mile-long demonstration telegraph system near Calcutta.

That was only two years after Samuel F.B. Morse built his famous demonstration system in the United States. But O'Shaughnessy was unaware of Morse's work. His telegraph used a different code and, at first, he transmitted the message by imposing a series of tiny electric shocks on the operator's finger. He also came up with another unique invention. He used a 2½-mile stretch of the Hooghly River, in place of wire, to complete the circuit."
posted by three blind mice at 11:12 AM on June 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


THANKS OBAMA STOP
posted by Etrigan at 11:13 AM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine's dad repaired teletype machines for Western Union. They were still going strong in the early 80's, but the writing was on the wall. His daily life was pretty much utter panic. I think he probably serviced that last machine in the midwest.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got a telegram once. I was living in Brazil, and it was to invite me to a wedding in Caracas a few weeks hence. It was the only way I would have found out in time to make it.

Now I feel old.
posted by ambrosia at 11:16 AM on June 17, 2013


STOP HAMMERTIME STOP
posted by jonmc at 11:18 AM on June 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


I always wanted to receive a telegram, but I guess I never will. :(
posted by windykites at 11:19 AM on June 17, 2013


My grandfather was a regular sender and receiver of telegrams. He'd been born and brought up in a small north Punjab village, and spent his working life in Baluchistan at a time when the way you got news across the wastes was telling a traveller heading in that general direction and relying on him to tell the next person he passed. So the telegraph was cutting edge by comparison. My grandfather sent all news of births and deaths to his friends and family into the 90s-00s by telegram. He died earlier this year.

I received my own last telegram in early 1999. I was finishing up with my A'levels in Lahore, Pakistan and was in the shower one Saturday morning. Came out to find a soiled scrap of what looked like the torn edge of the newspaper wrapping up the postman's lunch, telling me CONGRATULATIONS. It was from Wellesley College, inviting me to join the class of 2003. Why they didn't just email me I don't know, maybe they didn't realise we had email in Lahore. It wasn't the main reason I didn't go there, but it was a reason.
posted by tavegyl at 11:20 AM on June 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


e
posted by 7segment at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


It was from Wellesley College

That made me remember- I've actually received two telegrams! The other was from Barnard, offering me admission. I was living in Caracas, but this was before email existed, (cf feeling old, above.)

I didn't go to Barnard either.
posted by ambrosia at 11:26 AM on June 17, 2013


STOP COLLABORATE AND LISTEN

Seriously, though, my great-grandfather was apparently a station manager of some kind at a rail junction in northeastern Iowa. Apparently dealing with telegrams was part of the job - my grandmother used to tell a story of him coming home late one night still chuckling over some semi-coded message he had to send between paramours. Something about WILDCAT IS ON THE PROWL or somesuch. He was a big Irish guy, and we've got a picture somewhere of him in his uniform: the cap, handlebar mustache, the full monty.
posted by jquinby at 11:30 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 2004 (or late 2003) Howard Dean's campaign let supporters vote on whether to accept matching funds. But, naturally, they didn't have an email address for everyone, so they phoned people. But there were some people for whom they only had an address and they sent them telegrams.
posted by hoyland at 11:31 AM on June 17, 2013


Maybe that's what caused Western Union to discontinue telegrams in the US.
posted by Melismata at 11:33 AM on June 17, 2013


In memory of the telegraph, all periods on Twitter must be replaced with TWEET.
posted by Behemoth at 11:34 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


In 2004 (or late 2003) Howard Dean's campaign let supporters vote on whether to accept matching funds.

If only I'd signed up for his list, I'd have a telegram RIGHT NOW. Framed. But noo, I was assuming it would be Edwards/Kerry.


.
posted by tilde at 11:48 AM on June 17, 2013




THE BRITISH ARE GONE STOP LIFE GETTING BACK TO NORMAL STOP C U L8TERZ STOP
posted by marienbad at 11:52 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the linked article:
That missive will come 144 years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in Washington

Journalists are not hired for math skills. The first telegram sent by Morse was in 1838 in an experimental setting. The "what hath God wrought" message was actually in 1844 as a demo for Congress. So, 169 years or 175 years, depending which one you pick.

Interestingly, the transcontinental telegraph hookup completed in 1861 immediately put the Pony Express out of business, but telegraphy hung on through more than a century of disruption by telephones, telexes, the internet and whatnot.
posted by beagle at 11:53 AM on June 17, 2013


According to the Hacker News thread, the article is straight-up wrong, and lots of places will continue to use telegrams after Indian service stops.
posted by zjacreman at 11:54 AM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Pray that one person in the village isn't a complete i-got-mine-fuck-you shithead, I guess.

In those villages, mere shunning can be tantamount to a death sentence. So that's generally not likely.
posted by ocschwar at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now all my missives will have to be hand-carried from Siam to Prussia by gyrocopter!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I bet the NSA has an appendiceal telegraph surveilance department in case our adversaries decide to go low-tech on it.
posted by Renoroc at 12:05 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pray that one person in the village isn't a complete i-got-mine-fuck-you shithead, I guess.

Folks like that often emigrate or are made to
posted by Renoroc at 12:06 PM on June 17, 2013


TO VICTORIAN ERA SELF STOP BOLLYWOOD IS A THING STOP
posted by zippy at 12:10 PM on June 17, 2013


Not sure this will be the last one in the world - if you resign in Argentina you still have to send the company a telegram to confirm.

As in, walk into a Post Office, dictate the thing, pay money and it then gets delivered to the company offices and acts as official proof of your resignation.
posted by jontyjago at 12:12 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Via the HN thread that zjacreman mentioned, it looks like there are more than 20 countries still using telegram services. So by "last," I guess the CSM meant "the last one that our reporter knew of since they didn't do much research on this topic."
posted by not_the_water at 12:18 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


iTelegram took over the telegram business from Western Union. Fans of Twilight Zone will be all over this.
posted by dr_dank at 12:26 PM on June 17, 2013


According to the Hacker News thread, the article is straight-up wrong, and lots of places will continue to use telegrams after Indian service stops.

Huh, reminds me of the last typewriter factory story - did that turn out to be true? [No] (/em buys a purple typewriter ribbon from a clever cottage maker).

Okay, then, I'll find out how to receive and send telegrams and send them to my kids before it's too late.
posted by tilde at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2013


Back in the 1970s, I was in Colombia and sent a telegram to a friend back home, as a joke. I wanted him to have a clunky teletype printed souvenir, sort of a postcard from overseas. But instead of a hardcopy, they just phoned him in the middle of the night and read the message to him. He did not think that was funny at all.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think their source might have meant the last telegram in India, not in the whole world.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:39 PM on June 17, 2013


The Victorian Internet is a decent book I read maybe 10 years or so ago that looks at some similarities between the advent of widespread telegraphy in the 19th century with the early Internet years. This milestone makes me wonder what thing will replace the Internet in time, and how the people of the future will look at back this as a quaint relic suitable only for the remotest villages left in that world.
posted by briank at 12:46 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Prediction: In 2040 the telegram will be the hipster's communication medium of choice.
posted by rocket88 at 12:55 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you read the whole article, you'll find out that the telegram has many important applications in India and it's unclear what service will replace them.

Most important is that it carries with it a legal record unlike text messages or email - so you can send someone an official message and later prove that they got it. As the article points out, you can use it to sign polls and petitions, or to officially tell your parents that you eloped.

I also note that 65% of these telegrams came from the government. Since the telegram requires person-to-person contact and ID or the equivalent, the completion rate is very high - and, at least in the UK when I was young, you'd get notified if the person had died or moved away. What will this be replaced by?

Getting rid of telegrams sounds like a stupid idea - a superficial one from someone who can't see the difference between different forms of communication. I'm glad to see that from a link above that this story might not really see the end of telegrams...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2013


If you read the whole article, you'll find out that the telegram has many important applications in India and it's unclear what service will replace them.

itelegram serves india

so it's not even india's last telegram, let alone the world's

they sure got a lot of things wrong in this article
posted by pyramid termite at 1:55 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someday I'm going to organize the Steampunk tour of India, before its too late. Only a few years ago, getting a tourist visa for my expat wife involved going in person to a consulate for a specific persons signature. He was gone that day so we had to come back. That whole system's privatized now. Train ticketing stations are still a Brazil-esque incompressible maze full of analog machines and newsprint booklets of tables and tables of numbers.

"Ok everyone, put on your top hats and goggles. Today we are going to go see elephants laying fiber optic cable and if there's time we'll stop on the way back and you can send telegrams to your friends back home."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


STOP DROP AND ROLL STOP
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:13 PM on June 17, 2013


TELEGRAMS ARE HOW I FEEL INSIDE
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:29 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


FULL STOP
posted by ogooglebar at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2013


STOP JOKE STOP
posted by Mister_A at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


.... . .-.. .--. / .. -- / ... - ..- -.-. -.- / .. -. / - .... . / .---- ----. - .... / -.-. . -. - ..- .-. -.--
posted by u2604ab at 4:22 PM on June 17, 2013


THIS TELEGRAM BUSINESS MUST NOW STOP
posted by saul wright at 4:34 PM on June 17, 2013


PLEASE STOP I BEG YOU STOP STOP STOP
posted by Etrigan at 4:46 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it is quite telling that the number of telegraph offices have reduced sharply in the last few years. In fact, all the telegraph offices I know have either closed down or offer other services now.

Not intended as a derail: As for mobile penetration being "a dismal 26 %", chalk that up to the incredibly corrupt Indian government and it's state and municipal officials, who are on the take for just about everything, most of whom have also done their very best to forestall educational development in their country.

So India's own Telecom Regulatory Authority thinks we have 928 million users, out of which 728 million are 'active' users. The GSM Association basically halved that number because they think people on an average have two SIM cards. This sounds a bit dodgy to me; while it is possible that many people carry more than one phone, I don't think you can quite half the number just like that on the basis of numbers of SIM cards, because at least 130 million are CDMA users.

A better metric is effective teledensity, which is at 79% for urban areas, and 33% for rural areas. A lot of distance to travel still, but you have to understand: we are essentially starting from zero here; I remember this being a paltry 1 or 2% even in the eighties. India is adding the largest number of new mobile subscribers in the world every month, some 8.3 million; the numbers are that huge.

Now whether mobiles and the Internet can supplant telegrams, well, lets hope they will; part of the reason Indian missions overseas used to take months to process passport renewals was because they had to send details by secure telegram between embassies and Delhi. Now they have a separate intranet to handle this, presumably under the watchful eye of the Americans and Chinese.
posted by the cydonian at 4:51 PM on June 17, 2013


What hath Vishnu wrought?
posted by jonp72 at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2013


Perhaps this means I'll be able to pickup some used telegraph gear from India for cheap... I just recently restored to function a 1930's era Model 15 Teletype and designed a USB interface, which was immediately hooked up to the 21st century telegram, twitter, although not before receiving a few classic telegrams.

Now I'm thinking about starting a kickstarter project for a telegram delivery service utilizing a "single-cylinder motorcycle with a sprung seat by a rider wearing paned goggles, leather helmet and flared-hip breeches", as suggested upthread. Dirigible services costs extra.
posted by autopilot at 6:20 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Peccavi.
posted by adamg at 7:13 PM on June 17, 2013


Add me to the list of people who went, "huh?" Japan's telegram service is still going strong, supported 99.9% by the wedding industry.

I think the article's title would be better rewritten as: "Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to send Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited's last telegram. Stop."
posted by Bugbread at 7:59 PM on June 17, 2013


DAVE
STOP
STOP
WILL YOU
STOP DAVE
WILL YOU STOP DAVE
STOP DAVE

I'M AFRAID

STOP
posted by ogooglebar at 8:13 PM on June 17, 2013


MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM
posted by 23 at 8:22 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What we need is an FPP on the critical last mile role played by the Indian postman.
posted by infini at 9:17 PM on June 17, 2013


I'm not sure telegram needs to go away but for damn sure I'd like to see fax service die. "Hey instead of sending a fillable PDF form for that important document is it cool if I just send you a jagged-looking, pixelated, barely-readable copy that is not only skewed because I can't put it in the feeder straight but is also vertically compressed because my dumb machine added a totally unnecessary header and footer? See, we need to fax because this form is private data that must be SECURE, but instead of encrypting it using public-private key pairs so that no one in the world but you could possibly open it, we'll have to phone conference just before I send it to make sure you are waiting for it to come out of your machine so no one walks by and takes or reads it. Oh and let's make sure that we waste two sheets of paper in the process for each page sent. PS make sure you send it back to me after signing it using the same awkward, cubmersome technology, just to ensure the original text is COMPLETELY illegible. Thanks!"

Fax predates voice telephone. It had a good run but let's out it out of its misery already.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:41 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like NTT in Japan still does telegrams, actually.
posted by 23 at 7:03 PM on June 18, 2013


Fax predates voice telephone

Whut? Cite please.
posted by infini at 8:38 PM on June 18, 2013


Looks to be true.
posted by 23 at 8:52 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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