Technology advances in a blur -- a lot of us can't remember what life was like before smartphones, let alone the Internet. As a result, we have a tendency to think that all of the annoyances that came with the Internet are also brand new to humanity.
But they're really not. Just as we've previously told you that hacking was invented way before the Internet and that fan fiction has been creeping people out for a thousand years, it turns out that those are not the only common online annoyances your great-great-grandfather might have been exposed to. If you think going back in time a century or two would help you escape things like email spam, Nigerian scams or LOLspeak, think again.
5Telegraphed Messages Had Hilarious "AutoCorrect" Mistakes
Have you ever sent a text message only to later find out your phone's software AutoCorrected the shit out of it, making it unreadable or, even worse, completely changing the meaning? For example, in trying to fix what it perceives as a spelling error, the phone might change "basket" into "casket," or "gasoline" into "Vaseline," or "hi grandma" into "I smoke meth and worship strange gods."
"Nyarlathotep? You know we're a Baphomet family."
Well, telegraph users in the 19th and early 20th centuries had to put up with a surprisingly similar annoyance: Just because you sent the right signals through the wire didn't necessarily mean the same words would reach the other side. The Victorian version of AutoCorrect was called "hog-Morse" after the tendency for the word "home" to come through as "hog," resulting, for example, in a message that said "home sweet home" becoming "hog swat hog." Other examples include turning "cow" into "coat," "wife" into "wig" and "U.S. Navy" into "us nasty," which had to be the name of at least one '80s R&B group.
This led to awkward situations, like the time a commission firm in Richmond, Virginia, received a telegram inquiring about the price of "undressed staves" ... where "staves" (wooden posts) had accidentally been replaced with "slaves." An employee at the firm replied: "No trade in naked chattel since Emancipation Proclamation."
Via Wikimedia Commons
Trolling, gratuitous racism -- that guy single-handedly invented the Internet.
Another time, the message "Governor general turns first sod" (referring to a railway ceremony in London) came through as "Governor general twins first son," which was further expanded by a news agency into "Lady Kennedy, the wife of Sir Arthur Kennedy, Governor-General of Queensland, yesterday gave birth at Government House, Brisbane, to twins, the first born being a son." This took everyone in London by surprise, especially because the governor was single.
Hog-Morse was the result of inexperienced or inept telegraph operators misreading Morse code signals without noticing -- basically, it was like a pre-computer version of a software bug. In fact, instead of "n00bs," new telegraph users who made annoying mistakes were actually known as "bugs," since most of them used a cheap telegraph key that had an insect for a logo.
This was the equivalent of using the default avatar on a message board.
Despite the urban legend that claims that the term "bug" as a synonym for a technical error comes from an actual moth found inside an early computer in 1947 (which did happen -- here's a photo of it), that exact meaning was already being used in the previous century. Renowned supervillain Thomas Alva Edison used that definition of bug in a letter from 1878, though in all likelihood, he stole it from someone else.
4Electronic Spam Was Invented in Victorian England
Yes, electronic spam has been annoying people since the 19th century -- since 1864, to be precise, when an unlicensed dentist's office in London abused new telegraph technology to mass-send the following advertisement:
"Messrs Gabriel, dentists, Harley-street, Cavendish-square. Until October Messrs Gabriel's professional attendance at 27, Harley-Street, will be 10 till 5."
"P.S. Ask for special prices on our penile augmentation elixir."
Thanks to the newly established London District Telegraph company, protospammers Maurice and Arnold Gabriel were able to send 100 telegraphic dispatches at a time, specifically targeting important members of British society. Since telegrams at this point were still used for urgent matters only, the incident caused shock and indignation among the top-hat wearing, mustachioed population:
You can practically taste the monocle.
Another gentleman wrote that when he received the telegram, he immediately "feared that a fire or some other casualty had occurred" before ripping open the envelope and finding out he'd basically been rickrolled. It wasn't long before other shady businesses started doing the same thing, and they still haven't stopped.
However, there's another inbox annoyance that's been going around for even longer: cursed chain letters, of the "forward this to 20 people or something bad will happen" type. Early versions of the same concept can be found in ancient Egypt and Asia.
"The last person who didn't pass this wall on to five of his friends died when a wall fell on him."
The idea that copying a text or image will give you great riches/prevent a calamity dates back thousands of years, but it only started resembling the chain letters that the very old/very young/very stupid members of your family keep forwarding to you at some point in the 1700s, when "Letters from Heaven" began circulating that claimed to be written by Jesus himself, promising:
"And he that hath a copy of this my own letter, written with my own hand ... and keepeth it without publishing it to others shall not prosper; but he that publisheth it to others, shall be blessed of me ... and if he believe not in this writing ... I will send my own plagues upon him, and consume both him and his children, and his cattle."
"Personal visitations take a lot of bandwidth, so we've been relying more on snail mail lately."
These letters were still going around in the early 20th century, though they had evolved into shorter messages that simply asked the recipient to reproduce a short prayer (or face the consequences). With time, the religious element was played down while keeping a supernatural promise of good or bad fortune. So whatever you make of the irritating Facebook forwards that keep showing up in your feed, at least they're not out there insisting Jesus himself posted it.