Nerve Centers

Nerve Center

It would not be long ere the whole surface of this country would be channeled for those nerves which are so diffuse, with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country.

Samuel F.B. Morse, journal entry, c. 1844

The “human interest” dimension is simply that of immediacy of participation in the experience of others that occurs with instant information. People become instant, too, in their response of pity or fury when they must share the common extension of the central nervous system with the whole of mankind. Under these conditions, “conspicuous waste” or “conspicuous consumption” become lost causes, and even the hardiest of the rich dwindle into modest ways of timid service to mankind.

At this point, some may still enquire why the telegraph should create “human interest,” and why the earlier press did not.

Marshall McLuhan, “Telegraph: The Social Hormone” in Understanding Media c. 1964

*McLuhan was wrong here. “Human interest” stories began to grow in the press around 1830, as the prices of newspapers were lowered and markets expanded. A common mistake, really, confusing economics with electrons.

The electricity that lights the fire can’t do much without the fuel. The confluence of the nerve metaphors is striking, as is the reoccurrence of the global village in the writings of both men. Despite the error, I think I like McLuhan’s idea of telegraphic hormones better than Morse’s dispatches to the populace from the citizens on the hill (both ideas are explored elsewhere in their writings). On the other hand, I’m not too thrilled with Hillary Clinton’s village or MCI’s neighborhood either.