Social media is not a phenomenon exclusive to our current Digital Age. It has a long tradition and distinct parallels with events in the past that seem to run in 100 years cycles. Editorial cartoons, postcards and even the Industrial Revolution were all forebearers to how we communicate today through social media.
Editorial Cartoons- from Legacy Newspapers to e-Readers
With his jug ears, buck teeth and yellow nightdress, the Yellow Kid hardly looked like an icon for comic and commercial success, but that’s exactly what he became in the late nineteenth-century America. Created by artist R.F.Outcault, the Yellow Kid who critiqued the social foibles of the day was published in two major newspapers, The New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer and later Randolph Hearst's upstart New York Journal. The term 'yellow journalism' was attributed to this cartoon character as Hearst used the Yellow Kid to sensationalize the news.
Yellow KidThe Yellow Kid has long since passed away, but op-ed journalist Ron Callari and illustrator Jon Donohoe believe we need a 21st Century version of off-the-cuff commentary for the the new millennium. On January 1, 2001, kidd millennium emerged as a full-blown online cartoon character and an ongoing, self-proclaimed spokes-kid for social ills occurring in current times.
In 2004, kidd millennium was featured in editorial cartoons for "Uncle Dubya's Jihad Jamboree", and in October, 2009 will star in his first graphic novel titled "Crude Behavior," to be published by Robot Comics.
In October, this graphic novel will be sold in two editions - one for the Kindle 1 & 2, another specifically for the Kindle DX alone. Then serial adaptations for the Apple and Google markets will be arriving shortly thereafter. From legacy newspapers to e-readers, editorial cartoons are alive and well in the 21st Century.
Letter Writing - From Postcards to Tweets
In the UK, during the Edwardian era, over 5.9 billion postcards were mailed in less than a decade (1901-1910). For many people the postcard was considered an opportunity to write informally in a more conversational style versus the more formality associated with letter writing. With 10 postal deliveries a day in major cities throughout the UK, English men and women could respond to each other in a rather speedy manner.
Dr Julia GillenA study conducted by Julia Gillen and Nigel Hall from the Lancaster and Manchester Metropolitan Universities concluded that "the low price and efficiency of the Edwardian postcard as an informal written communication technology was not equalled subsequently until the 21st Century." Postcards writing often lacked punctuation, included abbreviated words and incomplete sentences. Like Twitter which restricts users to 140 characters per 'tweet,' postcards writers only had a limited amount of space to pen a message.
The image on the postcard could also be considered the precursor of photo-sharing apps like Twitsnaps and Twitpic that allows users to link photos to a tweet.
The studies at the Lancaster Research Centre revealed "travel patterns, social networks and concerns of its age." This fall, the research group is using Twitter to resend some of the original Edwardian messages under the profile handle of @eVIIpc.
So for example, a sample postcard tweet that was issued on August 21, 2009 and appeared as such...
...included a Twitpic photo of the actual card sent 104 years earlier on August 12, 1904.
Industrial Revolution to Semantic Technology
As the era of legacy newspapers come to a close, it looks like blogging may follow in its footsteps. Similar to the first Industrial Revolution when artisans and hand-crafted goods were replaced by assembly lines in the early 1900s, we are just at the cusp of entering a new Industrial Revolution when blogging and all online data will become manufactured content.
While the first Industrial Revolution took a couple of hundred years (1750 to 1900), the Digital Era will make a major paradigm shift when Web 2.0 comes to a close and ushers in semantic technology. As we look back at this era, we are going to come to the realization that all the work accomplished by website designers, content providers and bloggers during this period was actually the underbelly of the next new economy.
Like myself, my fellow bloggers still create content by hand. We draw on our life experience, world views, educational backgrounds, literary insights and centuries of scholarship teachings from all fields. We piece together fact with research, sprinkle metaphors and analogies where needed and sometimes reach great heights of insight when we get really lucky!
In stark contrast, according to Peter Sweeney, Founder of the semantic technology firm Primal Fusion, "Web 3.0 is industrial" where "the automation of tasks will displace human work." He further states that "instead of users manually creating content, machines will take the place of the heavy lifting. Consumers will simply push the buttons and get stuff done. Think textile mills versus spinning wheels."
The next new Industrial Revolution will spend billions on semantic technologies to create factories for manufacturing content? Sweeney notes that there are "railways of linked data" being laid down today to allow these data-mining establishments to trade and co-operate.
Primal Fusion, is in the process of building one of these industrial Web 3.0 complexes. It will enable individual consumers to build personal websites not in weeks or days, but in minutes, merely by datamining their interests. Accordingly, the company's semantic technology will be making significant gains over the Web 2.0 user-generated content models perhaps as early as the next decade.
So what a difference a century makes. In less than 100 years, we have replaced legacy newspapers, postcards, bloggers and content providers - and we will soon be closing the door on Web 2.0 era as well. However the digital age has accelerated the process, so the changes that we will all witness going forward will only take a fraction of the time as the advancements noted here. And if the old Hemingway quote, "we grow strong in the broken places" holds true, we should be able to speed up the process even more by assessing what is not working a lot more expeditiously as we sail into the next 100 years!