Friday, June 13, 2008

The First Information Super Highway

Have you ever wondered what it was like to just be an ordinary run of the mill citizen in 1776? We always think of those people as tea partying sharpshooters who never met a Lobsterback they didn’t want to shoot at from behind a rock wall. We might be surprised to find out how very much like ourselves we would find them. Just like today, there were two things you were never supposed to talk about and just like today they found themselves discussing politics and religion all the time. How they were able to keep so well informed is a process even today’s cable news wouldn’t be able to fathom.

One of the ways they kept so up to date in those days was the internet. Yep! The internet! Now they didn’t have web browsers but their news didn’t come to them on a crawler either. Their internetwork was powered by the strongest routers of their day and the most prolific bloggers you have ever known. Their favorite method of delivery was over their extensive “Equine-Net” infrastructure. AND … talk about interactive news! Chat rooms were general located at the local pub and they interacted directly with the news reporters. They were able to ask direct questions from some of the very people who had recently made news themselves. Even their slowest links could be efficient and terribly satisfying. It was called “walk up access”! Believe me, word of mouth was lightning fast compared to some of the slow dial up access we have today.

Religion may have had a more pervasive effect on their lives because the church was so central to everything they did. (In fact, church was the biggest chat-room going!) While many of us might cringe at the supposed effect religion had on everyday life. If we could visit that time we might be surprised to find out how much more down to earth the effect actually was. Since almost everyone was involved, there was less chance to even be tempted to live the kind of hypocritical and pretentious kind of lives that we sometimes associate with religious people. Now don’t think I’m saying there weren’t any hypocrites. They are a fact of life. One pastor was heard to say that the only thing really wrong with churches was that their members tended to be people. Seriously, though, everyone was “on the net” and you just couldn’t practically hide enough of your faults as easily as our loner society does today!

When the first formal internet was developed in the colonies it was called the “Committees of Correspondence”. Small towns along that revolutionary information highway would keep up a public service of letters and the flow of information was rather robust. Everyone has heard about the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” but what we don’t hear about was that these midnight and midday rides were commonplace. They even sent information in bits that were framed in packets and transported over the largest bandwidth of the day - ocean going ships. In that day, information was gaining speed on the Atlantic Crossing, although not enough to endear Jolly old England to her colonists. While we would think of these transmissions as slow, the relative speed with which improvements were being made in this technology might embarrass the greatest minds at Intel or Microsoft! In short, information was wanted at as much a premium as we do today and while there was no frill there was surely a way!

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