Many of the social institutions and patterns of everyday life with which we are now so familiar assumed their present forms in the four decades between 1880 and 1920. Their development was inextricably tied up with the growth of modern media. The arrival of wireless telegraphy in 1895, and of automatic switchboards in telephone exchanges in 1892, allowed greater and greater volumes of information and conversation to be transmitted, conveniently and instantly over greater and greater distances. The ability to reproduce photographs in newspapers and magazines for the rst time (1880) transformed the popular press. And the launch of the gramophone, in 1887, and the arrival of cinema in 1895, laid the basis for novel kinds of entertainment and experience.
This complex of new communications media played a central role in constructing the
contemporary social order in four main ways. First, they allowed both the large business enterprises that were coming to dominate the economy, and the new forms of state and government which were emerging in the political arena, to manage their proliferating activities more effectively. Modern business worked with ever-more complex chains of supply, production and distribution. Modern nation-states were assuming greater responsibility for social welfare, in areas like pensions and education. With the age of total war, ushered in by the First World War I, they faced the problem of managing military operations spread over a huge geographical area. Even in peacetime, the operations of many large corporations and Western nation-states were global in scope. Empires, whether territorial or economic, posed formidable problems of command, coordination and control.