This is repost of something I wrote almost eight years ago. In this Age of Plague, the relevance of its message is not lost on me.
—GTJ, May 2020
Technology Travels to the Seventeenth Century
People aren’t talking to each other much lately, have you noticed? Unless they’re in the same room, I mean. Even then, though…
We’re doing something else: we’re emailing, texting, IMing, Tweeting, Facebooking, & generally social media-ing. Most people think social media started with the internet. *head shake* Young people today.
Social media likely started sometime after we began bashing symbols into rocks—probably very soon thereafter. For a long time, it consisted mostly of letters; handwritten (later typewritten) and sent by foot, horse, carriage, train, truck, car, plane, &c.
Then came the telegraph. It didn’t carry a lot of what you might call social communication, though the operators likely chatted with each other. Hell, they likely even have telesexted. It did cut into our letter writing, though.
The death knell of the letter only sounded after the telephone showed up. The phone quickly became the preferred mode of long-distance social intercourse.
[I said social intercourse, you…]
If the telephone put the letter in a coma, easier and ever cheaper modes of transportation buried it. For decades, the letter almost disappeared from the social landscape. Many mourned the loss of an art form that had distinct advantages over talking.
Social media of the modern variety, really started out when the internet first took off. The primary method of communication was text, largely because it required very little bandwidth.
First, there was email. Text messaging was next. The term ‘Social Media’ didn’t even exist until Facebook. It and a bunch of others (Twitter, YouTube, &c.) cemented the reality of instant free communication regardless of distance almost anywhere in the world.
Pictures, video, live video conferencing (Skype, &c.) were added to the mix almost overnight, it seems. Smart phones really accelerated the process.
The role of social media in contemporary society has been seismic, to say the least. Literal revolutions have been caused, or at least affected by it.
The current period is strongly reminiscent of the advent of Johann Gutenberg’s converted winepress which, some five and a half centuries ago—largely because of the mass distribution of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses—caused a fissure in Christendom that violently split Europe in two.
Through all this, text has reemerged as the overwhelmingly favorite way to communicate. Few have commented on this, so I will. We have returned to that form of communication so popular before Alexander Graham Bell—the written word.