I would like to ask you for help. I am now developing a world in a non-internet era and I am struggling a bit in transferring information. I am trying to calculate how fast information will travel around the town/country/world in different scenarios.

The world is situated mainly like 1920 - 1970. So the same communication as in reality in that period can be made. But no internet.


World War - end - spread information across the world and fighting sides each other

World War - beginning - same spreading

European delegation like OSN makes a decision affecting invited European countries - how will this affect its inhabitants and how fast?

In the Far East a new Messiah is born. How fast will this info spread across the world?

Thanks all for help.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Now I feel old! I can't believe someone is asking "How did people communicate before the Internet?" ;) $\endgroup$
    – colmde
    Sep 17 '15 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ I am not asking HOW they communicate but HOW FAST they communicate. And HOW FAST will information transfer. $\endgroup$
    – Ernedar
    Sep 17 '15 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Can't help but think of the movie The Big Red One. Information was traveling about four hours too late back in those days. $\endgroup$
    – DSKekaha
    Sep 17 '15 at 17:58

How fast will the information spread? Well it depends on the communication medium. In 1920 to 1970 era, following methods are possible:

1) Radio-telephone

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2) Videophone

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3) Television (of course)

4) Using transatlantic cable (1956)

5) Optical fiber communication (1964)

6) Telegraph

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7) And lastly some ancient systems like smoke signals, drums, and chains of beacons on hilltops.


Pre-internet world still had a lot of effective and fast ways for mass level and individual level information exchange.

Mass Communication To Public

a- T.V. This would be possible for 1960s and onward

b- Radio. Viable since 1930s

c- Telegraph. Viable since 1890s.

Personal Communication

a- Wireless transmitters/receivers. In use since world war 2 or so

b- Pigeons. Possible long before any of these. But they are slower than electronic transmissions mentioned above and there needs be a complete network of pigeon keepers/trainers. This was the main communication channel for armies before telegraph and radio.

c- Mirror reflection communication. This was theorised several times in the history in different places. Works as fast as the radio communications, but needs dedicated towers for sending/receiving information.


The further back in time you go, the more restricted your options would become. The biggest hurdle before 1920s would not be person to person communication but spreading the word to the public as there were no real mass communication techs in place before the radio. You can "inform" a person very quickly about some event but that person would have some trouble "spreading" that information to others.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What about newspapers? $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 17 '15 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking word of mouth would travel at exponential speed as compared to slow newspapers. By the time a newspaper is printed, if someone knows the shocking story in town, it would be already known to everyone, albeit with some error (rumors etc). Newspapers also aren't clear from all errors and there are discrepancies between reports of two newspapers. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 '15 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly but newspapers did appear daily and they newspaper agency would ge a telegraph agregrate/mail correspondence. So news agents would have a much faster formal network fo news $\endgroup$
    – joojaa
    Sep 17 '15 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but that the big bloke got killed in that other-city-at-the-other-side-of-the-country is still faster to get via Newspaper than word of mouth. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 '15 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ Joe gets telegram, Joe tells Kurt, Kurt tells Anna, Anna informs Teddie, Teddie discusses with Phillips. Word passes from 1 to 4 people within some ... 1 hour timespan (considering a normal daily scenario for a 90 years ago or so world). Newspapers would although spread the word to a far greater audience, spread it far slower too! $\endgroup$ Sep 17 '15 at 12:37

Given that radio existed in this time period, a message could be spread about as quickly as it can today. The big difference is not in transmission speed, but bandwidth. Before computers and the Internet, most popular communication media required significant time and effort to transmit particularly long messages. One consequence is that only the more important things are likely to spread. If a major battle is fought, the result is likely to be known almost instantaneously around the world. However, news of a merger of small-ish listed companies might only be known the next day with a newspaper, and a discovery of a new mathematical technique could take long enough to spread that it's discovered independently by various researchers.


1920s onwards is recent enough that communication would not be too much slower than today. Anything big everyone would know about worldwide within a day. The telegraph/etc would spread the word to newspapers and newspapers would tell everyone. With the advent of radio even that final step would be faster too.

The main difference before the internet was that there was very little "on demand" information. You were reliant on hearing what other people decided to tell you and there was no fast way to get more details. For example if there was a huge fire in Australia you could get the general news about the fire but if you had family in a specific town there would be no way to find out how that town in particular had done.

The advent of the telephone would at least let you call for more information. The first long distance lines across america appeared around 1915 but international calls took longer to become possible.


Before internet, there used to be news agencies. France had somewhat modern news agencies back in 1830's and rest of Europe by 1850. Governmental actors had similar resources already earlier as far as the Napoleonic era. These would aggregate news form different regions, send it by mail/semaphore (1790's)/electrical telegraph (1830's) to aggregate would ship it forward. Local newspapers would then publish stories about these events.

So news would travel at roughly the speed of mail + a few hours to press. Mainly by rail about 80-100 km/h, or by semaphore line. Later at speed of telegram, and by 1870 you could place along distance call over the Atlantic in urgent situations. Newspapers would in bigger hubs release editions few times a day (morning paper and evening paper). This aggregate news would spread much faster than rumors over big distances. Problem is that this way of news travel is easy to censor and delay. Later you would have radio stations that would broadcast info at nearly same speed as today.

By 1920's the speed of information flow would be not much slower than by a day or so, for significant events events. Mainly because only the end user communication link is faster today. In fact, I doubt the speed at which news flows form certain war zones today is much faster (mostly as fast or a day slower) than back in 1920's due to human inertia in the publishing of the news.

  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent thanks for the edits but whats with the down votes $\endgroup$
    – joojaa
    Oct 1 '15 at 18:43

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