I just finished reading the Empire Express by David Haward Bain. It took me a couple months as I read on the side and contrasted with other more nourishing reads from widely different universes. However, after finally finishing the 700+ pages I am left with many stories and tales to use in my regular work as the API Evangelist. I picked up the book to learn more about the regulation that went into not just this monumental “road Bbuilding”, but also laying of the telegraph lines across this country, but I also found myself leaving reminded (once again), that everything is all about stories. All of this. Then. Now. It is all stories. Telling them and controlling the flow of information so that others believe your stories.
The story of how we built the railroad is very much a story of how we became the America we are today. Greed, manipulation, exploitation, hard work, ingenuity, big government, and perseverance. After reading the very well written and researched book, I am convinced that regulation around APIs will be more about stories than the usual things I associate with why regulation exists. I am making my way through how the railroad, radio, electricity, and other regulation came to be, and while it often focuses on keeping people safe, strengthening and defining markets, making America stronger in the world, making rich people richer, and empowering government to crush the soul of American business, it is all just about people being people and telling stories. WOW. There are some amazing stories in the cracks of how the railroad was built. The things you do not get in your history books, and really show how good ol modern American business got its roots.
The Union Pacific is how the wealthy began cutting their teeth on complex financial products. The Central Pacific planted the roots for what is Silicon Valley today. This country was connected coast to coast with a rail and communication “road” on the backs of the poor, funded publicly by the United States government, and made a small group of people very, very rich. With a whole lot of people in the middle thinking they’d get rich, but mostly just worked themselves to death, and were complicit in a wild mix of scams, schemes, and good old fashioned American engineering. I will be pondering the blatant stories of racism involving the hard-working Chinese laborers, Irish, and other emigrants, but also the rape and murder of the indigenous along the way. I will be making my way back through the 700 pages to pull some of the funny and not so funny stories of how the railroad and this country were built, but I had to capture this moment in time, because I feel like I will be needing it as a grounding point for what is about to happen when it comes to technology and API regulation.
I love the story of how everyone scammed, schemed, and built their way to Promontory Point in Utah from the east and the west. I love just how close everything came to not actually finishing the coast-to-coast road. I feel lied to when it comes to how much of this didn’t end up in our history books. I love how patriotic and monumental the laying of the final rail and driving the final spike were. I love how the coast-to-coast telegraph communication set off patriotic parades in cities across the country. I really, really love how the crews had to get back to work immediately fixing the shoddy work so that the trains could actually operate safely. I am not so looking forward to having to now slog through the years from 1870 onward to learn about all the court cases and resulting regulations to understand what happened next. What a shitshow! It was all so very American. It all left me thinking about the insanely amazing world of technology investment I live in today. I have a lot more reading on electricity, television, and how regulation across multiple key industries has shaped the world we live in today. I am learning a lot when it comes the realities behind why regulation in this country exists, and what the regulatory landscape might look like for the technology sector. The only constant I am seeing at this point is storytelling. When it comes to radio, railroads, and telegraph, it is all about the power of stories and controlling information. I am guessing it will be the same across these other business sectors, but we’ll wait and see.