An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #64: Tweet You and The Horse You Rode In On

Things would be a lot different if you had to deliver your status updates on horseback.

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express so I’ve been thinking about the wildly different factors that informed our communication in 1860.

Even though it holds a solid historic spot in our communal memory, the Express was only actually around for about a year. It was quickly replaced by the rise of the telegraph. During the time it was considered the new and cool way to send messages, a letter that was relayed from Missouri to Sacramento would require a new horse every 10 miles or so and a new rider every 75.

Adjusting for inflation, it would probably cost you a couple hundred dollars and require about twenty-five guys and a couple hundred horses to deliver a message. One assumes that would dramatically cut down on retweets and messages that contained only the letters LOL.

Sending messages, sharing and responding is remarkably easy today. It usually feels like there is very little at stake with each press of the publish button. No one is arguing that we’d be better off using the Pony Express – least of all the horses. But it’s interesting to look at past modes of communication and wonder if our current stream of realtime updates would be a little more interesting – or at least a lot different – if we had to work a bit harder to share an idea.

The speed record for the nearly two thousand mile Pony Express route was set at seven days, 17 hours with the delivery of Lincoln’s inaugural address. Can you imagine if the recipients of that letter opened the dust-covered envelope to find a message that only included one line: Abraham just checked-in at the U.S. Capitol.

When I first re-met my wife eight years after we graduated high school, I spent about seven hours writing her a letter. I went back through all of my old writings, pulled out the best material, pieced it all together with some pithy transitions and really poured it on. And it worked.

If I had encountered her a decade later, I’m not sure a couple of Tweets and instant messages would have been enough for me to overcome my appearance.

Would your typical piece of communication be more or less effective if the available tools required a little more time and effort? Does the speed with which we rattle off opinions, suggestions and reactions have a broader impact on the way we communicate? Will our short bursts of language ultimately make us more fluid with our use of words, or just gradually eat away at our ability to crank out quality material?

More to the point, which of your recent writings — from emails to Tweets to status updates — would really be worth the effort a horse would have to exert for its delivery?

And I’ve got to be willing to apply that same consideration to my own posts. While I think this article is pretty interesting and has a few good lines, I probably wouldn’t dedicate more than about a hundred bucks and eighteen horses to share it with you. So if you’re east of Reno, you might have to saddle up and meet me halfway.


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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.