Friday, February 24, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) A BC/BCE example of rapid communication (Twitter by foot)

The term "sneakernet" has been used to describe the act of carrying a floppy disk from one computer to another in order to transmit data between the two computers.

Nowadays, no one has floppy disks any more.

But the original "sneakernet" predates the existence of floppy disks, or even computers. In a recent post in my tymshft blog, I referenced an episode that appears in 2 Samuel 18:19-33. Even secularists can appreciate the nature of the story.

In summary, Joab was an army commander who defeated Absalom in battle. Joab was under the employ of David. Two messengers were sent to bring David the news of the battle. Because Twitter did not exist at the time, and because floppy disks (or sneakers) did not exist at the time, the messengers ran with the news.

Ordinarily this would be a routine task, except for one complicating factor - Absalom happened to be the son of David, and Absalom was killed in the battle (by Joab and men under his command).

One of the messengers, Ahimaaz, was an Israeli who understood the sensitivity of the news. The other messenger was an unidentified foreigner (a Cushite) who may or may not have understood the implications. Even if you ignore the fact that Absalom was intentionally killed by the army, there remains the possibility that David might be sensitive to news that his son was killed (despite the fact that the son rebelled against him).

Despite the fact that the Cushite messenger left first, Ahimaaz overtook him and reached David before the Cushite did. Ahimaaz immediately announces the victory in the battle, and then is asked by David, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" Ahimaaz dodged the question:

When Joab sent the king's servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.

Then the Cushite arrived, also announcing victory in battle. David asked about Absalom, and the Cushite answered:

May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.

I don't know if the Cushite was simply telling the unvarnished truth, or if he was delivering the message that he thought King David wanted to hear. But regardless of the Cushite's intent, the outcome was painful for all. David mourned the death of his son, and the victorious people "stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle." Joab ended up rebuking David. The record does not record whether David ever learned that Joab had killed Absalom, but David told his successor Solomon to deal with Joab because of other faults.

QUESTION: Who was the better messenger - the faster messenger who withheld distressing information, or the slower messenger who revealed everything?
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