November 9, 2013

Who could have known the Romans invented Facebook and the iPad?

If you have ever listened to The Economist's podcast, you may have listened to the voice of Tom Standage. When he's not working as a journalist, he's wring books and his latest book is called Writing on the Wall. It promises to give you an history of social media. You may first think that social media is too new - the time span from MySpace to Facebook and ending with the latest Twitter IPO is only a few years. But Tom Standage has discovered that social media was used by the Romans 2000 years ago. This is a brief talk about the book.

Lessons learned:
  • What's the definition of social media? Social media is media we get from other people (that are not physically present), exchanged along social connections, creating a distributed discussion or community.
  • Social media environments have existed for centuries. What you needed to make a Facebook thousands of years ago, you needed to write and you needed an inexpensive system to deliver what you had written to others in the network. The Roman elite could write and they had an inexpensive distribution system in the form of slaves. Having slaves as messengers was common.
  • News, such as deaths and results from the gladiator games, spread through the social network. The social network was responsible for spreading news from Rome to members in the network who traveled across the empire. It took 5-6 weeks for the news to spread from Rome to Britain or Syria. 
  • The Romans used an early iPad. "These tablets had a layer of wax inside a wooden frame. You'd use a stylus to scratch things into the wax, and flip the stylus over to use its flat end to smooth the wax and erase things when necessary." To save space, the Romans used abbreviation. For example, SPD was short for "SALUTEM PLURINAM DICIT" (says many greetings). 
Roman iPad. Source: Tom Standage