Between April 1860 to October 1861 the Pony Express was the fastest way to move mail, newspapers, and telegrams. Men and horses crossed the western wilderness faster than ever before. It only took ten days for a saddle bag full of messages to move from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. Ten days! The Pony Express closed when the U.S. government completed a telegraph line between New York City, New York and San Francisco, California. Now, the mind-boggling fast ten days seem like an eternity. Telegrams could now be delivered in minutes.
On August 20, 1911
On this date 102 years ago a test verified that distances were becoming smaller than ever before.
The [New York] Times decided to send its 1911 telegram in order to determine how fast a commercial message could be sent around the world by telegraph cable. The message, reading simply “This message sent around the world,” left the dispatch room on the 17th floor of the Times building in New York at 7 p.m. on August 20. After it traveled more than 28,000 miles, being relayed by 16 different operators, through San Francisco, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bombay, Malta, Lisbon and the Azores–among other locations–the reply was received by the same operator 16.5 minutes later. It was the fastest time achieved by a commercial cablegram since the opening of the Pacific cable in 1900 by the Commercial Cable Company. — This Day in History | History.com
Around The World Today
Around the world in sixteen-and-a-half minutes. By today’s standards, that is incredibly slow, but back then, that speed was barely imaginable. During my research for this post, it shocked me to learn that Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006 and India (the last country to use the telegram) sent its last telegram in July 2013. Yes, 2013! The telegraph served the world effectively for over 150 years.
Today we send text messages that travel hundreds or thousands of miles in seconds and think nothing of it. When I write a blog post and hit the publish button the post is available in a few seconds. Anyone, anywhere in the world, with an internet connection, can read it less than a minute after it’s published. The core of communication has changed and it’s changing us. And as with any change it comes with good and bad parts.
I rarely use my smart phone as a phone. In fact, I rarely use any phone. There are easier ways to find out information or to talk with someone. A quick text. An email if what needs to be said is longer than a text can handle or needs a more formal setting. I dislike using the U.S. mail. I prefer to use electronic methods of communicating instead face to face. That is the downside of the quick methods we use to communicate every day. Less personal interaction.
My niece, Princess Cadence, is afraid of talking on the phone. The subtle change in the sound of a person’s voice scares her. She is more comfortable using Skype. On the other end of the spectrum is my grandfather. He doesn’t use email or the internet, instead, he uses the U.S. mail and a land-line phone. Last year I saw television ads that made fun of the younger generation who thought having 2000 Facebook friends was better than being out with friends. It made me laugh, but also think. What has happened to make us think that looking at photos of your friends having fun is better than actually having fun?
Another quirk of this technology is that we can connect with friends and acquaintances half a world away. We learn about their likes and dislikes, compare their culture compared to ours. We keep up with family and friends and see their children grow over the years, children we’ve never met in person. We IM (instant message) them and can see and talk with them on Google hangouts. I have friends who live in Germany, Sweden, and Norway that I would never get to talk with if not for these almost magical methods of instant communication. Some I would never even have met if not for the internet.
Being able to communicate across the cubicle wall, across town, across the country, and around the world almost instantly is wonderful. You have to use the right tool for the job. But as I look back at the Pony Express which became obsolete the moment the first telegram from New York City reached the operator in San Francisco. The speed that tools become obsolete and are replaced varies for each person and each job.
Around The World Tomorrow
I wonder what communication will look like in 10 years, 20 years, or 102 years from now. Would we recognize it we saw or would we call it magic or fantasy? History is fascinating and shows us an interesting perspective on what citizens of the future might think of our world today. For instance, some friends of mine recently pointed out that the sound of a ringing telephone (that those of us who are old enough to vividly remember the 60s, 70s, and 80s) means nothing to the children who were born in the last ten years. While technology has made communication at the speed of thought possible, it’s important to remember that face to face is a great way to spread a message too. It’s easier to misinterpret 140 characters on a screen than it is to misread a person’s expression and tone of voice. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.