These days, we have access to the great pool of information known as the internet, which allows us to discover such life-changing information such as what Lily Allen had for her dinner. It was beans on toast, in case you’re wondering. It may surprise one to learn, however, that obtaining (admittedly questionable) worldly knowledge hasn’t always been as easy as pressing a few buttons.
First, there was word of mouth. It was a bit rubbish as you had to hire a bloke on horseback to deliver messages, sometimes as far away as the other side of the continent. Often such messengers would die on the way to their destination, requiring you to pay a second horseman to replace the first. In the end, most cut their losses and invested in a homing pigeon. They weren’t much more successful, but at least there was a nice bird broth to be had afterwards.
Next came the printing press, which made long distance communication slightly easier, but the problem of postman death remained. Towns frequently went without their weekly newspaper when messengers were intercepted by highwaymen or shot and eaten by cannibals. Alfred Harte, editor of Britain’s Sunday Times from 1532-1538, wrote:
“Apologies if thou didst not receive thyne previous editione of The Tymes, for the messenger by the nayme of Freegune was consumed by Northerners whilst riding downe the M6, preventing many outposts from their weekly fixe of news, gossipe and reviews ... To make up fore this oversight on behalfe of the now deceased messenger, whome hath been sacked, please fynde enclosed a free copye of Jeremie Clarksone’s Top Geare magazine with a two-columne review of the brande new three horse powered horse.”
Upon the invention of the hand-held gun and five horse powered horse, messenger fatality decreased to such an extent that it was almost completely eradicated by 1663. As a result, there was a global boom in printed communication, leading to the creation of what would become known as the mainstream media. Almost overnight, the world became unhealthy slobs lazing around reading Heate Magazine whist engorging themselves on underbaked bread.
The natural progression is quite obviously Twitter, which began in the nineteenth century when bored public schoolchildren would construct paper aeroplanes containing short textual messages and propel them across the room to be read by whoever should receive them. This system was converted to electronic format upon the invention of computers and released unto the general public in March 2006.
Somehow we have gone from horseback messengers to Lady Gaga having one million regular readers hanging on her every word, but are things really much different? After all, isn’t everything ever said anywhere online likely to be a highly mutated Chinese whisper? And aren’t modern web servers powered by donkeys? Whatever the case, the next time you send an email or retweet a Wayne Rooney Twitter message for the 174th time, just take a second to remember the hundreds of men and their trusty steeds that died in the name of social communication.