Reaching Out

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 9, 2021

Of all the commands which our electronic devices miraculously, unquestioningly, and instantaneously obey, none seems more wonderful to me than the single word “send.” Wrapped up in that word are my strict instructions to deliver to whomever I specify, this cargo of words and images.

Transmissions of this kind have already been around so long (possibly since before you were born) that, to you, there may no longer be anything amazing about them. After all, it’s not as if email burst suddenly overnight upon a world totally unprepared for it. Indeed, we’ve come a long way since the days when messages were carried by human runners, like the probably mythical one who carried to Athens tidings of the Greek victory at Marathon in 490 BC (and then dropped dead). There has been time, since then, to subjugate horses, to invent saddles and (much later) the surprisingly important stirrups, to develop wheeled vehicles on land, and, at sea, sophisticated methods of using wind-power, plus the momentous magnetic compass, to navigate the waters of the world.

And meanwhile, we have had the emergence of postal systems which, in their own times, could carry messages and materials from place to place as fast as any known method of transportation.  The New York City main Post Office has on its pediment this inscription:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

You may think that these words were a tribute to our postal service by some recent poet. But they are quoted from the work of the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, who lived in the 5th century BC, and what they describe is the much-admired courier service of the Persian Empire.

But, if we don’t count distance-observation methods, such as smoke signals, flags, and semaphores, there was no real advance in the delivery of messages and goods until the almost simultaneous advent of the electric telegraph and the railroads, which happened less than two centuries ago.

Within the single decade of the 1860s, America saw the brief but magnificent Pony Express (which, for speed and efficiency, probably put to shame the Persian Empire’s, and even Benjamin Franklin’s, overland services) plus the completion from coast to coast of both telegraph and railroad connections.

It was then less than another century before the arrival of the computer, with its magic “send” button, not to mention its many other bells and whistles.

Truly, it is wonderful to be now able to send verbal and visual messages at the speed of light — but what about things? The idea of “teleportation” of objects and people may seem as far-fetched (pardon the expression) as once did many of the marvels we take for granted today.

In the meantime, however, there is one type of “thing” which, from the remote past, humans have always been very good at sending over considerable distances — and our abilities have been constantly increasing. It comes under the general heading of “Ammunition.” From the earliest rock thrown, to the latest rocket launched, there has been steady improvement in the expediting of this kind of one-way cargo.

But in terms of other types of cargo, there are — as any postal or shipping service will tell you — many complications.  Not only the size, weight, fragility, and value must be considered, but also any possible danger to those handling it, or any special conditions required, such as temperature or moisture. This, of course, is particularly true of live animals, or of human organs, intended for transplant, being transported under conditions of great urgency.

Ultimately, it all comes down to economics — how much it will cost to send item X from point A to point B? — which is why the term “payload” seems so appropriate – because, regardless of the vehicle or crew, commercially speaking, all that counts are the physical cargo or the paying passengers.

But there was one vehicle which, according to the Biblical account, carried a payload consisting of the ancestors of all life on Earth — the sole survivors of a Great Flood. It was Noah’s Ark, which, after it had come to rest on a mountain, sent out the new Earth’s first messenger, which brought back possibly the most important response ever received. The messenger was a dove, and it returned with an olive leaf — proof that the Flood was over.

If only every message we send could bring as gratifying a response!


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