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In a sense Carey uses some of the ideas of the Enlightenment in reverse: thus the argument that systematic, scientific thinking could provide truths and laws about even the most complex of human relationships is reversed by Carey. He suggests that tracing the influence of the invention of a communication device must rely upon more than a seeking for the objective truth.
But the method that Carey uses for convincing his readers actually borrows a lot from the scientific method. He argues that the telegraph shifted the nature of human culture because it freed communication from transportation. Until this point, messages between individuals (or between countries) needed to be transported physically from place to place, either by foot, horse or latterly, the railroad. The telegraph allowed messages to move independently of other forms of transportation. Thus Carey looks at something which was fairly obvious in a new manner: - just as a scientist will explore phenomena that are seen by human beings every day in a new manner in order to explain them.
The scientific method continues as the telegraphy is seen as a driver for a number of actions and reactions within society. It led to the eventual disappearance of certain kinds of writing, and even changed the manner in which human beings saw time. ...
Now people could communicate instantly with others who were living in a different time zone.
His discussion of language turns more to the precepts of Modernism - as he both uses some of its ideas and also explains some of the changes that occurred through the invention of the telegraph. The telegraph enabled news to travel 'instantly' from one side of the country to another, but due to the cost involved, the words used to describe events was constantly cut. Carey terms this as "the lowest common denominator" and thus language was reduced to its basic components. Colloquial English that could only be understood within a particular locality could not be used in nationwide news reporting. Short, simple descriptive sentences took over from the more long-winded, flowery language of before.
It is this new type of language that comes to dominate, and even spreads into the work of "great writers" such as Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was known for using short, simple sentences that could be understood by anyone with even a basic education. While the ideas behind the words might be only accessible to the few, a whole mass of the population could now read, understand and even enjoy elite literature.
The telegraph thus led to a democratization of both language and literature within Modernism. Modernism itself was characterized by the tendency to reject the old dichotomies between "high" and "low" art; it also rejected the idea of dividing knowledge into that which was 'objective' and that which was 'subjective'. All human behavior and knowledge was questioned and problematized within the Modernist perspective, as shown by Carey's own argument.
Along with a ...Show more


In Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph James Carey uses what might appear to be just a piece of technology to suggest that scientific advance can influence not only the manner in which people communicate with one another, but also what it actually means to be human…
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Critical thinking exercise
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