Innuendo 12_2015: „History re-tweets itself“

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Inspired by one of the most captivating books I have read so far, Tom Standage’s Writing on the wall, including the very title, which is one of its chapters, Innuendo 12 makes another journey, this time, through the history of social media. If one takes into consideration the relatively late invention of the printing press, and the even later development of mass-media, it is no wonder that some form of network kept communities informed and in touch since the beginnings of time. Even more, our distant cousins, the primates, have their own form of social grooming, by picking up their parasites off each other’s backs, which, with humans and language, literally translated into „I scratch your back, you scratch mine“; the neocortex, that part of the brain responsible for deceit, lies, and social „grooming“, is proportionately larger in primates than in other species, and, accordingly, even larger in human beings. Therefore, the need for gossip, news, and infotainment is, luckily for us, recorded ever since Ancient times, thanks to the letter-collector Cicero, as well as to the nice people of Pompeii, who left us thousands of graffittis  on their walls, funny and sometimes bully- or troll-like, but even literate or philosophical, a mosaic of a highly socially conscious society.  After struggling with multiple forms of censorship and prohibition in King Henry the Eighth court or John Milton’s stubbornness against the Church and King Charles the First, the network of contacts and messengers we now call social media took a short detour with the outcome of the Industrial Revolution and the easier, faster, but expensive steam powered printing presses. For a little over a hundred years, we grew accustomed to the vertical information dissemination, i.e. the mass media, and kind of forgot that we used to communicate „horizontally“ way before (what Tom Standage calls the „really old media“), until 1990 and the world wide web. Not being an internet utopist myself, it is a good feeling to know that we have coped with social media before, and cope we shall from now on; after all, the Internet has shaped itself through its young years already into a whole system of rules and norms of conduct that will only become more thorough and evolved with time.

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