On this day in 1860, the Pony Express began its 18-month career of carrying mail from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, MO. Even as the first riders spurred their mounts to a gallop, this new wrinkle in fast communications was doomed. What the Native Americans would call the "singing wire," the telegraph, would shortly deliver information across vast distances with the speed of racing electrons. Within a decade after the Civil War, the transatlantic cable would make possible the development of the first international capital markets. The telegraph would also make possible the growth of coordinated rail networks and standard time zones.
On this day in 1973, the precursor of the cell phone was demonstrated in Manhattan, with a call from a Motorola Executive to a scientist at Bell Labs. Perhaps some of us yearn for the day when one could escape ringing telephones by taking a walk. It's no longer possible. I'm not an early adopter of new technologies; my wife and I only started sending text messages to each other when we got our iPhones three years ago. The gee-whiz factor of mobile communications has long since worn off. Another potential question now confronts us: Can there be any such thing as a "communications revolution" in the age of downloadable apps, when it seems each person can have his or her own preferred method of communicating with the rest of the world?
Herr Gutenberg's printing press was king of the mass communications world from the 15th century until around 1920, when radio became commercialized. Television, the photocopier, the telephone, the desktop computer, and the tablet have all come along since 1860, but the rate of change is accelerating. I heard on the radio today that even Facebook is being supplanted in the minds of many (mostly younger) users by newer media. One bewildered Facebook investor wondered out loud why anyone would invest in an enterprise whose life cycle was little longer than that of a butterfly. It's a fair question. What other things might be gained or lost if each person has his or her own personal channel of communication? I certainly don't have an answer.