Less than 100 years after Paul Revere’s famous ride, cementing the American capacity for—and success with—the power of the network, the nation’s eastern half had swelled to the outskirts of Missouri—St. Joseph, Missouri to be exact—then considered the very outpost of civilization.
Between the hinterlands of St. Joseph and the booming economy of San Francisco lay a vast dead zone, thousands of miles of nothing but wilderness and hostile forces. Any communication at all would take an arduous, indeed perilous journey of 20 days or more to get through. Can we even imagine waiting 20 days for the results of a presidential election or news of the Civil War?
Such was our interest in cutting down on the communication time between San Francisco and St. Joseph Missouri that for a few years in the early 1860s, too impatient for telegraph wires to be strung, we could hire the Pony Express to cut the time in half, riding non-stop at full speed for 10 full days and nights.
Bankers and merchants were among the first customers, happily handing over the then exorbitant rate of $5 US for one letter. The Pony Express was perhaps America’s first flash-in-the-pan startup, going from zero to 300 employees back to zero again from 1860 to 1862.
The wireless did it—killed the Pony Express. Then the telephone killed the wireless, and the cell phone killed the telephone (how many of us use or even have land lines anymore?). Each new device designed not just to communicate, but to make communication ever more immediate. Don’t have to walk down to Western Union anymore, you can have the message come right into your house with the telephone. Don’t have to be in your house to get a call any more, you can have the message sent right to your very person.
Waxing cynical for a moment, we can envision a future of cranial-implants, chips that put a Facebook crawl right into our awareness, bypassing our senses completely.
Ok, that’s silly.
CB radios, walk-talkies, cell phones, texting and instant messaging. Americans have only ever demonstrated an insatiable appetite for more and faster ways to communicate. There’s no telling where our insatiable appetite for networking may lead us.