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Posted October 23, 2013
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London coffeehouse chitchat begat Isaac Newton's theory of gravi
London coffeehouse chitchat begat Isaac Newton's theory of gravity. ***
So argues Tom Standage in Chapter 6 ("And So To The Coffeehouse: How Social Media Promotes Innovation") of his newest book, WRITING ON THE WALL: SOCIAL MEDIA - THE FIRST 2,000 YEARS. ***
Throughout Standage's fascinating romp through the 100,000 years since the evolution of human language and the 5,000 years since the first writing systems, he relies on studies of R.I.M. Dunbar and others showing that human primates are hard wired to function at their best in face-to-face societies of no more than 150 people. Before language, smaller groups of "friends" "groomed each other's hair and sent pre-verbal signals about whom to trust and whom to fear within the 150 persons or so tribal unit. Today's humans, long since adept at talking in small groups, groom friends in other ways, including via social media such at Twitter and Facebook. ***
Tom Standage assumes that his readers are at least somewhat familiar with the internet, Facebook, chat rooms and such social media. With that assumed familiarity in hand, he goes back to the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, earliest Christians (especially Saint Paul, 16th Century Christian reformers (especially Martin Luther) arguing that people like Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero and many others were social media pioneers. ***
The author of WRITING ON THE WALL then moves forward through innovative uses of writing among elites of Tudor and Stuart courts, in France, in revolutionary North America and on through the rise of "the enemy" of true, natural human face-to-face interactive communication. That enemy, whose dominance lasted from perhaps 1833 and the steam press-powered newspapers through the rise of Marconi, radio and television became increasingly centralized, in the USA driven by advertising revenue and almost entirely demand side rather than supply side. ***
As in the days of Isaac Newton and his coffee house pals whose conversations begat explanations of gravity and planetary motions, the internet, the word wide web, chat books, Facebook, Twitter and their cousins have revived man's millennia old preference for communicating with "friends," for two-way dialog rather than passively receiving broadcast information and for relying on our friends to pass along our own ideas and shared texts derived from others. ***
I learned something new and useful from every chapter but one. This is not a book of original scholarship. It is simply a brilliant application of seeing the world of 2013 prefigured when looking at the Rome of Cicero, the England of Isaac Newton and the transatlantic world of Marconi. That method works! ***This is one of the most stimulating books I have read in the past ten years. -OOO-
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