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Writing on the Wall: Social Media: The First 2,000 Years Audio Download – Unabridged

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tom Standage's book has at its heart one good magazine-length article about how many of the concepts we associate with social networks run over the internet have in fact been around in all sorts of forms for thousands of years. Concepts such as commenting, sharing and livening up content with stories about cute animals date as far back as the Romans and their Acta Diurna.

It's a neat piece of insight which doesn't just give us a new way of looking at the past, it also shows us how lessons from the past help us predict even the most modern of technological developments.
What expands Ton Standage's work to a full book is the chapters on the Romans, Martin Luther and so on. If you are not familiar with these parts of history, they make for a great set of summaries which add a persuasive weight of evidence to Standage's case.

If you are familiar with these parts of history already, then the chapters are a little staid - they are good, competent summaries of what happened but don't have a style or set of insights that raise them beyond the many other existing accounts of such periods that exist already. Once, for example, you have the point about 16th century poetry used to be passed round, commented on and amended in a way similar to modern social sharing, the chapter does not offer much for anyone already familiar with the basics of 16th century history.

But for most readers, that existing breadth of knowledge does not apply, and the weight of examples makes the book rather more persuasive, if a little less lively, than a Malcolm Gladwell volume.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Before picking up this book, I had assumed that social media was a modern phenomenon. However, Standage argues persuasively that this is not so and traces its history back to Roman times.

I found some of his anecdotes a bit dull and his general style is rather earnest. Nonetheless, it
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We need more books like this: books which look at the bigger picture behind this thing we are calling social media. The central idea of this book is that social media is nothing new - it is simply a return to a form of communication that has existed for centuries - and that media has only been anti-social (i.e. mass media) for a relatively short period of time, a time which is now ending.

However, what I found the most interesting was not so much the idea that the social nature of media hasn't changed (except recently) it was the fact that the reaction of society to changes in media is really what hasn't changed. Every time of new form of information sharing emerges - especially one which allows greater levels of participation - the old elites raise the same protests: the fact that the new participants are in some way unqualified to participate, or that participation is generally frivolous, time-wasting, or damaging to mankind's overall well-being. Of course, what is usually the only thing damaged is said elite's ability to run things in a way that has made them an elite in the first place.

Personally I don't entirely buy into the book's main premise. For example, I think the desire to focus on the social (i.e. interpersonal) nature of communication before mass media leads to an underestimation of the impact of printing. Printing was much more than pamphleting - albeit pamphlets were the main printed expressions of personal / political ideas. Likewise this focus may cause the importance of industrialised printing and the growth of the mass media to be over-emphasised. In reality, the elites have always been in control because the means of distributing information (be they slave messengers or steam printing presses) were always expensive.
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By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 17 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tom Standage delivers a very readable history of the media up to and including the new social media, with the emphasis on the history. The new social media seems so new because it follows a great anomaly, that of the mass media with its centralised control and distribution. We are going back to the old ways but in a new, super-networked way.

The author starts with pre-historic humans and their development as highly social animals. Our remote ancestors groomed each other for social cohesion. Later they developed language (and gossip). The invention of writing allowed this social activity to be spread across place and time. The growth of literacy allowed social interaction to increase. Printing boosted the process. Now social media and the Internet in general have given it a further boost.

In the beginning were the Greeks, wavering between the spoken and written word. Then came the Romans. Roman patricians, most notably Cicero, were prolific exchangers of letters; their plebeian inferiors were prolific writers on walls. St Paul kept the embryonic Christian movement alive with his epistles (letters). Christianity triumphed, then ossified. Attempts at reform were at first unsuccessful.
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