The Corner

Time Marches On Dept.: Telegram Edition

In another bow to the inevitable, India’s state-owned telegram service ended yesterday. The 163-year old service not surprisingly ran massive deficits, though as of Sunday it still had 75 centers and around 1,000 employees. Begun in 1850 for the British East India Company, the telegram was for generations the only reliable way to send quick messages long-distance in India. E-mail and texting has conquered India, just the way it has the rest of the linked-in world. In the United States, Western Union delivered its last telegram in January 2006. Even as recently as the late-1970s, I remember bar mitzvahs and wedding celebrations where the M.C. would read out the telegrams from family and friends who couldn’t make the festivities.

However, antiquarians should not despair, either in India or elsewhere. Telegram service still survives, as iTelegram, which allows you to send telegrams to the U.S., UK, and over 200 other countries. It may not have “Western Union” emblazoned on top, but it still is printed on yellow tear-paper, is hand delivered, and looks like a telegram. It may be a niche service, but it’s nice to see some things survive the instant digitization of our world, and it still seems classy.

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