Monday, September 11, 2006

I'm Trying to Connect You...........

Once upon a time, and you must agree with me that all the best stories start this way, to send your message to an old pal you stuck it into a cleft stick, summoned a fellow with a sturdy pair of legs, and sent him on his way to the prescribed address. It was a bit time consuming, of course. Marcus Aurelius had to loiter about the beach at Boulogne, waiting to invade England, for about six months waiting for a message to come back from Claudius in Rome.

In the middle ages, horse replaced runner and, providing it didn’t go lame or the rider ran across the odd highwayman, things speeded up dramatically. Steam brought in the railway and, in Britain, the Royal Mail enable one to buy a piece of coloured paper to stick on your letter. In return, they delivered it for you by rail, often overnight. This system attracted much attention from the authorities who fine tuned it so that now your piece of coloured paper costs a Royal fortune, delivery takes several days and, as an added bonus, a sizeable proportion of the mail is arranged to go missing. This creates employment for the staff who can now spend their days looking for it.

Thus, when the age of electronics ushered in E-Mail, free, fast and surely reliable, many of us embraced it eagerly.

Now if I wanted to correspond with my friend in Wickenburg, Arizona ( please note that this is purely for illustrative purposes, I have no friends in Wickenburg, Arizona) I E-Mail my message to him. According to these clever chappies who know all about this sort of thing, electricity travels at the same speed as light (how do they figure this stuff out?) which proceeds at a mind boggling 186,000 miles a second. This is even more boggling if you turn it into kilometres but I’m assured it amounts to much the same thing. So in theory, Mr. X, if I may call him that, in Wickenburg should get my missive, if not in the blink of an eye, pretty soon thereafter.

But for some reason it doesn’t. My message seems to have made a good many orbits of the earth plus a couple of trips into outer space before arriving in Wickenburg. Ah, they tell me, that’s because it does not go straight to Mr. X, it has to go through several points along the way, apparently to change trains or something. And the connections must rival trying to work out a journey on the British rail system.

They have even taken a leaf out of the Royal Mail book, for now they manage to lose a good proportion of the messages, which is what happened to me recently. My Internet service (?) provider elected to dump mail that it considered to be not worthy of my attention. This is the equivalent of my reliable mailman, Joseph, flicking through my letters on the way up the lane to my mailbox and tossing aside those he thought weren’t going to be of interest to me.

But personally I think that the delay in delivery of E-Mails recently is due to Uncle Sam (or whoever is deputising for him at the moment) sticking his nose into the communication business. I suspect my missing mail is hung up somewhere on Condoleeza’s desk in the White House while she tries to explain the long words to her boss.

It’s all a little strange. Even more so when you reflect that facsimile transmissions work almost exactly as predicted. I can send a fax to Mr.X, and provided he has his machine turned on, it will arrive more or less at 186,000 miles per second, little more than a blink of the eye (he does blink fairly slowly).

And the humble fax machine predates the Internet – I remember seeing one in action in the early 1970’s.

It’s the price of progress I suppose.