Telegram is dead. Long live telegram. Stop.

by Toby Manhire / 17 July, 2013
The closure of India's telegraph service doesn't quite mean the end of telegrams, in fact or spirit.
The last stop. Photo/Rafiq Maqboo/AP


“Telegram, harbinger of good and bad news, dies at 163,” reads the headline in the Indian Tribune.

Nostalgists queued to send one last message before telegraph offices closed their doors last week, writes Vibha Sharma.

“Old-timers remember using the service to announce a wedding, an impending visit or the arrival of a newborn.”

But it didn’t always bring bright news. “Bollywood movies used a telegram to signal a bad happening, [such as] ‘mother ill come soon’.”

One of the final telegrams sent in India, according to the BBC, read: “TELEGRAM IS DEAD. LONG LIVE TELEGRAM. STOP.”

And on, indeed, it lives. While the Indian closure has prompted obituaries for the telegram worldwide, in fact it survives in a handful of countries, notes Tom Standage in the Economist.

In Belgium, Japan and Sweden, for example, “former telecoms monopolies maintain them as a nostalgic novelty service”.

And “in many ways the tradition of the telegram is healthier than ever”, enduring in digital short forms like texting and instant messaging, he says. “The 19th-century technology of the telegram lives on, in spirit at least, in our 21st-century devices.” Stop.

 
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