Wednesday 1: Tom Armitage, "The future of social media: a historical perspective"


Social media is similar to the really old media that came before distributive media

Historical perspective has some lessons for us.


Roman using a laptop; had (wax) tablets; scribes stretched papyrus across their lap to write.

Letters were primary Roman communication method. Sort of newspaper that Julius C founded, but only one copy, put up on the forum; your slave would transcribe...!

Letters received were often copied and redistributes. [Basically very slow retweeting]


Publishing was passing round single copies through a social network. The enabling infrastructure were scribes: once you had one, the marginal cost of using it was zero, like broadband. Cicero's scribe had shorthand - higher bandwidth.


Posting on Walls - Pompeii. Adverts, rewards for return of property, status update. [Also meta graffiti - I admire you wall, for not falling down under weight of all this tedious writing.]

Graffiti was not considered vandalism, even within houses. "I am literate, and so are you, so here's a message." poetry riffing = comment thread.

Literacy is not binary. Like computer literacy. More literate friends would help you out.


Most successful user of early social media was St Paul. Personal communication still read out today.


Martin Luther as a blogger. Rebuttals to "comments". Luther's traffic statistics! Buying a pamphlet was a badge of identity for Luther's supporters. Luther is writing to find a community of like-minded people.


He took on the most powerful authority of the time. Luther's message was about cutting out authority figures; so were his pamphlets distribution; so the established church stomped on them like a multinational on a tweeter. But that was basically affirming Luther's notion of distributed faith.


Exiled printers went to Netherlands until England civil war; anarchy let a free press briefly flourish. Wildly different accounts of battles - Edgehill four pamphlets. News ballads.

Trying to argue with people: different from divine right of kings or popes. Aeropagitica - people can figure it out for themselves. Freedom of expression.


Coffee houses - origin of open-source movement. Different houses for different topics: jonathan's coffee house - stock ex; lloyds of London


American colonists taking on the British Empire. Initially grim; mood of appeasement.

Thomas Paine wrote pamphlet Common Sense 1000 copies. George Washington found it and distributed to all colonial sergeants to be read to men. Social distribution? Or top-down distribution by the alternative to the establishment?

Ultimately, attrition of British supplies won the war for the colonies.


And then it all went wrong - 1833 The Sun - idea of mass media pushed to people. Written by a small number of opinions then pushed out. One-way media.


Media is becoming social, but: only again.