I’m currently reading a paper from back in the year 2000 about the implications of comms history on the Internet. The paper was written by Andrew Odlyzko of AT&T’s Labs Research team, and I’m guessing this paper formed the basis of his "Content is Not King" paper from 2001. This paper makes a fantastic read with today’s social web in mind.
I’m only currently a quarter of the way through the paper, the first part of which discusses the introduction of telegraph and the postal network in the mid 19th century, it’s impact on business and point-to-point communication - and how lessons can be learned and adapted to the increased usage of the Internet.
I just want to lift a couple of lines out that have struck me so far.
I wonder if the Zuckerburg’s and Dorsey’s of this world had read the following:
There are persistent fears that the Internet will homogenize the world’s societies, turning them all into slight shades of the American culture. Such fears are not new, since they were also associated with the telephone, and later with radio and television.
The Internet has stimulated a series of sociological studies, some of which claim that it decreases human contact, while others come to the opposite conclusion This is just what happened with the telephone. It is certainly true that proportions of different types of interactions have changed. It appears hard to categorize them easily, though.
“For better or worse, I expect these changes to facilitate a continuing transformation away from interaction in solitary communities and workgroups and towards interaction in farflung, sparsely-knit and specialized social networks.” [Wellman, 2000]
As I mentioned earlier, this paper no doubt formed the basis of his infamous 2001 paper, and for those of you who thought “content” was THE buzzword in 2012, you’re more than a decade late:
The Internet is widely predicted to produce “digital convergence,” in which computing, communications, and broadcasting all merge into a single stream of discrete bits carried on the same ubiquitous network. The popular images of convergence are heavily tinged with the flavor of Hollywood. “Content is king” is the universal buzzword, where content is usually taken to mean professionally prepared material such as books, movies, sports events, or music.
Although the paper does profligate the position that point-to-point communication has more worth, and is more valuable than content.
And this, well this just made me smile, especially if you’ve ever worked with a stickler for punctuation and grammar:
Those who lament the lack of style in current letters compared to the often essay-quality compositions of the 17th or 18th centuries need to realize the different environment we operate in. We do not have weeks to compose a letter, and speed is of the essence. This trend is exacerbated with email. Email messages are often sadly deficient in style, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Instant messaging is typically even worse. However, when it is necessary to deal with scores of email messages per day, it is natural to treat them as informal conversations. After all, are we expected to always speak in grammatically correct sentences?
New communication technologies require new modes of acceptable usage. Today people complain about rudeness of cell phone users in restaurants or on airplanes, and wonder at the strange sights of cell phone users with headsets who seem to be talking to themselves. The phone also required development of new rules of etiquette [Fischer, 1988]. Even the wider use of mail for social communication led to “a burgeoning market for how-to-manuals to teach ordinary Americans the once-arcane custom of maintaining a correspondence with distant friends and family” [John, 1998].
I’ll share some more insight as I continue the read of my commute, but for those interested, you can download the paper here: http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/1525/history_communications2.pdf