Monday, October 28, 2013

Did Social Media Start with Cicero?

The answer could be yes. Cicero and his colleagues had a method of communication. According
to Tom Standage (Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years):

At the time there were no printing presses and no paper. Instead, information circulated through the exchange of letters and other documents which were copied, commented on, and shared with others in the form of papyrus rolls. Cicero’s own correspondence, one of the
best-preserved collections of letters from the period, shows that he exchanged
letters constantly with his friends elsewhere, keeping them up to date with the
latest political machinations, passing on items of interest from others, and
providing his own commentary and opinions. Letters were often copied, shared,
and quoted in other letters. Some letters were addressed to several people and
were written to be read aloud, or to be posted in public for general
consumption.

When Cicero or another politician made a noteworthy speech, he could distribute it by making copies available to his close associates, who would read it and pass it on to others. Many more people might then read the speech than had heard it being delivered. Books circulated
in a similar way, as sets of papyrus rolls passed from person to person. Anyone
who wished to retain a copy of a speech or book would have it transcribed by
scribes before passing it on. Copies also circulated of the acta diurna
(the “daily acts ,” or state gazette), the original of which was posted on a
board in the Forum in Rome each day and contained summaries of political
debates, proposals for new laws, announcements of births and deaths, the dates
of public holidays, and other official information. As he departed for Cilicia,
Cicero asked his friend and protégé Marcus Caelius Rufus to send him copies of
each day’s gazette along with his letters. But this would be just part of
Cicero’s information supply. “Others will write, many will bring me news, much
too will reach me even in the way of rumor,” Cicero wrote.

With information flitting from one correspondent to another, this informal system enabled information to penetrate to the farthest provinces within a few weeks at most. News from Rome took around five weeks to reach Britain in the west and seven weeks to reach Syria
in the east. Merchants, soldiers, and officials in distant parts would
circulate information from the heart of the republic within their own social
circles, sharing extracts from letters, speeches, or the state gazette with
their friends and passing news and rumors from the frontier back to their
contacts in Rome. There was no formal postal service, so letters had to be
carried by messengers or given to friends, traders, or travelers heading in the
right direction. The result was that Cicero, along with other members of the
Roman elite, was kept informed by a web of contacts— the members of his social
circle — all of whom gathered, filtered, and distributed information for each
other.

Brain Pickings comments:

This was the dawn of “social media” as we know it today, even though it wasn’t called that, or called anything at all. (Befittingly, though Standage doesn’t draw the connection, Cicero famously believed that if a word was absent from Greek society, it was because the thing
it needed to describe had become so prevalent that people had stopped noticing
its existence.) The platform on which it unfolded then was one of papyrus
scrolls passed around by hand, but the mechanism of transmitting information
via a human-powered network was analogous to anything we see on Facebook,
Twitter, Tumblr, and platforms we’re yet to imagine.

To find the full posting, you will have to search around on the Brain Pickings website. This piece was posted on October 25, 2013.

(ljs)

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2013/10/did-social-media-start-with-cicero.html

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