Global Nervous System in the Digital Age

It is commonly said, and albeit cliché, that we live in a rapidly developing digital age. Even then, it is difficult to comprehend that from the invention and commercial use of the incandescent light bulb in 1880, to the first computers developed under the ARPANET program in 1969 (Sterling, 1993) was less than ninety years – or one lifetime. Now, not even fifty years later, China has managed to merge the two by creating wireless internet via light bulbs (Huang, 2013). It is evident that the constantly developing and adapting of digital media has become both fascinating and overwhelming.

The industrialisation of technology and information processing, as discussed by Ted Mitew (2014), began with the introduction of the telegraph. Mitew (2014) describes how this form of media was capable of reaching the masses, whilst also spanning great distances and not needing expensive infrastructure to maintain. The telegraph was revolutionary technology that dealt with the immediacy of real-time. Mitew also discusses the concept of a ‘Global Nervous System’,  a network that reaches around the globe and where information can travel independently from the medium which used to be carried beforehand (2014). This concept of a connected world seems so familiar today, however, during the introduction of the telegraph would have been unfathomable.


PHOTO: Nervous System: The evolution of communication technology

In comparison, today everything is dependent on real time. Our social network activity, whether on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, is a record of our immediate activity to friends and family everywhere. Newspapers and networks report the latest news from around the globe as it is happening. The media we interact with today is an environment of light-speed “intangible flows of information produced by and processed through media” (Stalder 2005, pp. 62).

Interestingly, the nervous system of the digital age has furthermore provided a platform for discussions between people of various nations, cultures and ideologies to communicate about similar interests. In the early 1970s on the ARPANET, a large mailing-list dedicated to science-fiction fans was started. (Sterling, 1993). The list, labelled ‘SF – LOVERS’, discussed science fiction, yet “was not work-related and was frowned upon” (Sterling 1993, pp. 2). It appears that the internet, even in its earliest stages, was an irresistible technology. Workplaces today are similarly battling the ongoing use of websites such as Reddit and Tumblr, where workers browse information that is also ‘not work-related and frowned upon’.


Huang, R 2013, ‘China achieves wireless internet access via lightbulbs, zdnet, viewed August 8, <;

Mitew, T 2014, ‘A global nervous system: from the telegraph to cyberspace’, lecture, DIGC202, University of Wollongong, viewed 5th August 2014.

Stalder, F 2005, Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks, New Media Center, Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro, p. 60 – 66.

Sterling B 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, viewed August 5, <;.


Featured Image: <;

The evolution of Communication Technology: <;


4 thoughts on “Global Nervous System in the Digital Age

  1. A good read! I really like your writing style. Had to have a laugh at the ‘not work-related and frowned upon’, I can’t help but let my mind slip to the darker side of Tumblr and Reddit when works like that are spoken. Keep up the good work.

  2. The idea that the internet immediately accommodated the ‘not work-related and frowned upon’ activities is quite telling of the present nature of the internet (as you stated with reddit and such). Suddenly the idea of a strictly productive and work related technology ceased to exist and thus $2000 Facebook machines were born.

  3. Your quote from Stalder worked well with supporting your argument. I included this one from him; “New technology has more than ever before engendered the emergence of new forms of collaborative work” which I think further supports the point you are making. I think it’s important that you included the idea that workplaces today are similarly battling the ongoing use of websites such as Reddit and Tumblr. I hope to explore this issue in one of my future blogs as I also find it interesting.

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