It’s easy to feel that we live in an age full of new wonders and never-before envisaged technologies, but really... most of it’s pretty old hat.
But something occurred to me this morning on the train, while checking my work Twitter feed and seeing what my friends had gotten up to on Facebook. Social media and a lot of the technology add-ons we use every day really isn’t new; for instance, by definition, using whatever ‘source’ of media you can find in order to be social has been around for as long as, well... as long as there’s been blank surfaces (the medium) and charcoal (to use to create an imprint that’s meant to be seen and shared).
It’s been said many times before that there really is nothing new under the sun, and when it comes to communication and technology, it’s pretty much true. So, here, I’m going to list the true social media greats of past centuries, the pioneers of knowledge-base design, and the real forward thinkers when it comes to communications; if you think you’re cool ‘cause you’ve been on Facebook since before the first million, think again...
Hic est Forums
So let’s start with one of the more classic, and sadly now less popular forms of online social interaction – the humble forum. Born of the older bulletin board systems of the early internet days, these ordered, threaded discussions generally focus on a single topic or topic group, and allow like-minded folk to explore said topic. They are generally moderated, mostly polite, and if our own forums are anything to go by, the users generally think things were always better in the good old days.
Thinking historically, this one’s actually pretty easy – the name forum itself comes from the Latin (I love saying ‘the Latin’ – makes me sound all scholarly), and the original Roman Forum. Part of ancient Rome, and originally the plot of land where Rome’s founding kings eventually came to peaceful discussion and agreement; this was the very center of community life for the city. It was where everything came together – military processions, religion, royal palaces, government offices... these were all part of the Forum.
Many Roman cities utilised something similar. These lesser forums, or city squares, were places to do business, meet with friends, and generally be seen. There might be public punishments, or public displays for please the masses.
Yeah... sounds a lot like our own Green Room! So, here’s to the Romans, who not only gave us aqueducts, Hadrian’s Wall, and larks’ tongues, but also forums.
Ye Olde Livejournal
Ah, good old Livejournal. I, and a lot of my friends, used to love this site, and my use of the service certainly predates Facebook by a good many years – though I was a late adopter of both. The site pretty much does what it says on the tin, serving as an online journal where you can record long rambling entries, publically or privately, though there was certainly a community element to a lot of the groups that would form.
But the socialising was a side-effect of the main purpose of the site. I don’t use Livejournal anymore, but I do occasionally look back over the crap I jotted down. So, again, if we look at this in terms of journal writers, there really is only one winner in this category.
My man, and Royal Society member, Samuel Pepys – possibly the most famous diarist of his day.
Pepys started writing his diary entries on New Years’ Day, 1660, and the first entry ticks off all the kind of stuff I and my friends would write about on Livejournal, from commentary on the wars of the time, to, well, his wife’s monthly cycles, to politics and his work life.
Now, it can be argued that Pepys was not writing to share his work, but the man went to some lengths to preserve and even catalogue the eventual six volumes of his day to day life. To me, that suggests that Samuel Pepys wasn’t just writing for himself – he was writing for posterity, and so that one day people could look back on his life and times.
If that’s not inherently social, I don’t know what is. Nice one, Sam! Even better, some wag is tweeting portions of his diary entries daily - worth checking out!