Book Jeff

It All Started with a “Morse”

Have you ever wondered what Walt Disney would think of social media? From Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat to TikTok, it’s hard to imagine Walt having to deal with today’s technologies.

But he did. At least in his own way. Earlier this month, I gave a lecture on the history of social media and discovered it didn’t start with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Defined as ‘the electronic transmission of data, communication, and information,” social media made its way into our daily lives on May 24, 1844 when Samuel F. B. Morse tapped out the first electronic message from Baltimore to Washington, DC.

What was Morse’s first telegram? His first tweet? What was the first message in social media history?

“What Hath God Wrought?”

And we’ve been asking that question ever since.

Quickly enough, telegraph operators used a universal language of abbreviated dots and dashes of Morse Code to communicate. “G M” meant “good morning,” “G N” meant “good night” and “S F D” meant “stopping for dinner.”

LOL, right?

BTW, that also means social media made its way into Disneyland on Day One. Take a ride on the Disneyland Railroad, stop at the Frontierland Station, and listen to the taps coming out of the telegraph office. Today, this nineteenth-century form of social media continuously posts a paraphrased version of Walt’s opening day dedication:

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

FYI, Disneyland’s original social media post, i.e. Morse code message, had to be deleted. The story goes that Imagineers (then employees of W. E. D.), as a joke, first recorded a rather risqué message. This was quickly deleted when someone overheard Walt talking about his wife, Lily, being a trained telegraph operator.

OMG! I hate when that happens!

Today, social media can convince anyone of almost anything. The fake news…the echo chambers…the data breaches make it easy to believe we have it worse, not better, than those who have gone before us. But like Disneyland’s original telegraph message, we can correct this narrative.

What made the telegraph truly remarkable is how it shrunk the country and transformed the world into a global village, allowing individuals to communicate across vast distances almost instantaneously. Friends could share news, families could stay connected, and businesses could flourish through rapid exchanges of information.

Sound familiar? When used well, that’s what social media can still do for us today. I want to encourage you to use your connectivity—our computers, our smartphones, our social media platforms—to foster unity, empathy. Rather than being a space we fear, what if social media were a place where “parents and children can have fun together”?

What Hath Walt Wrought? What will you?

We use cookies on this website. To learn about the cookies we use and information about your preferences and opt-out choices, please click here. By using our website, you agree to the use of our cookies.