Analysis

The Morse Code revival: how dots and dashes are being embraced by a new generation

Morse Code may be 180 years old - but it's making a comeback (Image: Getty / Kim Mogg)Morse Code may be 180 years old - but it's making a comeback (Image: Getty / Kim Mogg)
Morse Code may be 180 years old - but it's making a comeback (Image: Getty / Kim Mogg) | Getty / Kim Mogg

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To mark Morse Code Day (27 April), we explore its modern-day applications, along with its surprising comeback spurred on by the younger generation.

Devised by Samuel Morse over 180 years ago, Morse, short for Morse code, consists of dots and dashes that represent individual letters in the alphabet. Over time, its uses have ranged from incredible rescue stories to romantic tales between separated couples. Now, its purposes are making headlines for new reasons.

While Morse code hasn’t been used in commercial telecommunications since the 1990s, it has been kept alive by radio enthusiasts for decades. Elsewhere, Morse code has retained its position in society, providing a valuable service for those working in the military and healthcare sectors.

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Through its behind-the-scenes presence, Morse has very much remained quietly part of our cultural consciousness. Yet all this may be about to change as tech companies, musicians and social networks appear to be fuelling its widespread resurgence. Earlier this year, evidence of Morse’s return was supported by the Radio Society of Great Britain, which revealed that the number of amateur radio licences had increased by 60%.

Learning Morse as a hobby may, on the surface, appear an unusual choice of skill to learn. Although, if we consider the relentless pace of life, the decision starts to become clearer. Interestingly, the rise in uptake itself may explain a lot about our attitudes towards the digital age.

The Morse Code alphabet (Image: Adobe Stock)The Morse Code alphabet (Image: Adobe Stock)
The Morse Code alphabet (Image: Adobe Stock) | cristi180884 - stock.adobe.com

Of course, nobody is saying that being able to communicate at the touch of a button is a bad thing. Instead, the observation is that manual and offline forms of communication have become a more attractive proposition. Like listening to vinyl records, communicating in Morse reignites a sense of romanticism.

Just the fact that each message needs decoding makes the content more meaningful. At the same time, by slowing communication down, modern-day-Morse, as it were, may in fact be providing a welcome break from the fast-paced and overwhelming world we live in.

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On a different note, Morse code has also become more relevant thanks to the music industry. Pop culture has always had a great deal of say in what society does and doesn’t find interesting. An appealing aspect of Morse lies in the fact only a minority can identify and translate it, giving it a unique and overt secrecy.

So, this year, when a K-pop band leaked details about their new songs through Morse code, fans as young as five started learning the system. This started a chain reaction. People began questioning how many other secret Morse messages might exist? This idea of using Morse to convey hidden meaning and exclusivity is another reason why younger people are eager to obtain fluency. Especially in a culture where everything is shared online.

Last, but not least, technology companies are also supporting Morse’s revival. Being able to communicate through speech isn’t universal.

Royal Air Force recruits learning Morse code at a training station in 1945 (Image: Getty)Royal Air Force recruits learning Morse code at a training station in 1945 (Image: Getty)
Royal Air Force recruits learning Morse code at a training station in 1945 (Image: Getty) | Getty Images

Equally, for those in need of non-verbal communication options, Morse provides a valuable workaround. Acknowledging this, big technology companies have integrated Morse into their solutions.

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One example is Google’s Gboard, a keyboard app for mobile devices which features a Morse input method, allowing users to type messages in Morse code by tapping their screen. Never one to miss a trick, Apple’s geniuses replicated this for their breakthrough Apple Watch. There’s no doubt that by leveraging the haptic capabilities of devices, technology companies will continue to play an important role in the growth of Morse code.

Overall, it’s great to see that people are using the technology at their disposal to learn new skills. Whether it’s mastering secret codes, fictional texts, or foreign languages, it’s vital that we encourage young and old to keep expanding their knowledge.

Esteban Touma is a Spanish teacher for Babbel

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