tom standage: that isjust such a good line. i'm totally stealing that. now that the internet is justway to make you go faster that's brilliant. thank you. you'll be hearing that on npr. so thanks very muchfor having me here. thank you, stephan, formaking it all happen. yes, i've written this bookabout social media and the idea
that it's a veryold thing and not as we are encouragedto think of it-- new and shiny and completelyhistorically unprecedented. i don't think it is. i think, actually, it hasbeen around for a long time. and that means it couldbe-- we can look at history and we can learn about it. we can learn someunexpected lessons from it. so in order tomake this claim, i
need to really define whati mean by social media. so what do i meanby social media? i think this is the sort ofcrucial aspect of social media is horizontal two waytransmission rather than vertical oneway transmission. i can say that to anaudience like this, but this is what inormally have to say. it's crucially media weget from other people. and it travels alongsocial networks,
and it results in thecreation of a distributed community or discussion. so you can feel part of a groupwith other people who are not physically present byexchanging media with them. so that means i'm notincluding word of mouth. i'm including anything thatinvolves writing or copying of media. so clearly this is somethingwe could do on the internet. and we know what the networktopology of that looks like.
but it turns out thatthis is something that you don't need adigital network to do. and i would contend that socialmedia environment have in fact existed for centuries. so what do you need to havea social media environment? i think you need to have,obviously, literacy. because in order to readand write the messages you're passing around,you need to be literate. but you also need the cost ofcopying them and delivering
them to be sufficiently low. and i think this situation wherethat combination first arose was in the late roman republic. copying and deliveringinformation was cheap then. it's cheap for us nowbecause of broadband. it was cheap thenbecause of slavery. and so slavery wasthe roman broadband. and this is a romancouple from-- actually, the first century ad,but around that time--
this is a mural from pompeii. and that chap on the right isa guy called terentius neo. and he was a baker in pompeii. and that's his wife there. and this is a muralfrom their house. and he is holdinga scroll and this is the label on thescroll, this bit here. so when you had lotsof scrolls on a shelf, it was like the spine of a book.
it was how youcould identify them. and she is holding what lookslike a samsung galaxy note 3, but is in fact a roman waxtablet sort of note pad thing. and what seems to be thecase is that he is the baker, and she actually runs thebooks and runs the business. so they are saying inthis mural, look at us, we are literate. they're proud of their literacy. and they are members ofthe roman middle class,
and not members of the elite. but this shows you thatliteracy was quite widespread among both men and women. but it's among the romanelite that we really see the social mediasystem working. because they'vegot-- a rich noble would have actuallyseveral slaves on his staff who were just messengers. and their job was to justrun around delivering
and collectingmessages on his behalf. and so really big families havetheir own essentially private postal services. and they could have messagestaken wherever they want. and they would alsohave scribes so they can have documentscopied very quickly. and if we look at theletters of cicero, which is the best preservedset of correspondence from this period.
and interestingly, we havehis inbox and his out box. we can see how the romansocial media system works. and so this is an example froma letter of cicero's-- "i sent you on march 24th a copyof balbus' letter to me and of caesar's letter to him." and this is a letterthat cicero is writing-- i think-- to his friend atticus. so if you think aboutwhat's happening here, balbus has written tocicero, and cicero's copying
that letter to atticus. but caesar has alsowritten to balbus, and balbus has copiedthat letter to cicero, and cicero is nowcopying that to atticus. so this is a thirdlevel retweet basically. and this is what people did. this is what they didwith their letters. and the reason they didwas that the roman elite was a bunch ofintermarried families.
and the political newsand the social news were very tangled up becauseif two families fell out, that could actuallymean civil war. and if two familiesformed an alliance, that would change thepolitical landscape. and that might becemented with a marriage. but then if there was adivorce, that would mean that, potentially, therewas obstruction and there was going tobe political fallout.
so what we see isall of these member of the roman elitewriting to each other. and we see somequite forming letters that cicero writesto other people to remind them of thathe's their friend when he's in trouble. and then other people writingto him when he's on top. and there, they're worriedabout their position. and so the socialand the political
are very closely mixed together. here's another example. on this occasion, cicerohas written a letter criticizing caesar, and he'sput it into general circulation. so he's sent copies of itto many of his friends, and they've copiedto and passed it on. and he's also kept-- becausehe kept copies of everything he sent-- he would havekept the rough copies, and his scribe would then makethe neat copies to send out.
he says that he's actuallyallowed people who've said, i've heard you've writtena really scorching letter about caesar. can i have a copy of it? so this is what he'sallow to happen here. and the same wouldhappen with speeches. so if you were a romanand you gave a speech and you're particularly proud ofit, you would put copies of it in circulation.
so that even peoplewho haven't been able to hear you makethe speech could read it. and in fact, more peoplemight then read the speech than had actually seenyou deliver the speech. and roman books were alsopropagated in this way. a book would be a setof rolls in a box. and if you were aroman author, you would choose the wealthiest,most influential patron that you could.
actually, you wouldchoose the patron who had the most foot trafficgoing through his library. and you would thenhave the book put in his library oryour dedicated to him. and you would hopethat the people passing through the library wouldread it and be so impressed that they would askfor a copy of it. and at that point, he wouldget his scribes to make a copy. and this is why the slaves andthe scribes are like broadband.
the marginal cost per pageis zero at this point. because he's paid forthe slave, and he's paying for the upkeep ofthe slave in the same way that you pay you'rebroadband bill every month. and so you can have as manypages copied out as you like, you just have to waitfor them to download. so this is why it'slike broadband. so the books would then spreadfrom one library to another. and if you werereally successful,
you could tell you'dmake it as a roman author if you went to the bookseller's street in rome and you saw a copyof your book on sale. that would mean enough peoplewere going to the book sellers and saying, have you gotthe new thomas standage's? and eventually they wouldfind someone who had it and make some copies sothat they could sell them. so they would only do that ifthere was sufficient demand so books werepropagating socially.
but my favoriteexample is the way the news circulated in thesort of official gazette. and it's calledthe "acta diurna." it was founded byjulius caesar in 59 bc. and as someone whoworks in news media, that means he sort offounded our industry, which is quite funny. and this was a summaryof the debates that's happened in the senate and inthe people's assembly each day.
and it was also a roundup ofbirths, deaths, marriages, and divorces, because thosewere politically very important. and announcement of publicholidays, the gladiator results, that kind of stuff. and this newspaperwas produced each day. but it was bizarrely-- by a sortof traditions of the newspaper industry-- the circulationwas apparently rather low. only one copy of it was made. and it was put up in the forum.
and if you want to read it,you have to go to the forum and read it yourself. or, if you were a wealthynoble and you had a scribe, you could send a scribedown to copy down the bits that aremost relevant to you. and then you couldread it over breakfast. and you would do that using adevice that looked like this. and this is a roman ipad. and this is exactlythe size and the shape
and the aspect ratioof the modern ipad. and you'll notice, googlefolks, that it's not 16:9. so the romans decidedthat the big bevel, which apples apparentlyabout to get rid of, and 4:3 was the way to go. anyway, they alsohave the smaller ones we saw early on whichis this sort of thing. these were things youcould note stuff down on. i'll go back to theroman ipad there.
so you could thenread the news on this, and then you would sendthe news that you thought would interest your friendsto them in a letter. and we see this-- we see it inthe letters of pliny and pliny the elder and also inletters of cicero and tacitus talked about this as well-- thatwhen a roman was outside rome, they would expect theirfriends to keep them abreast of the newsby sending them the most relevantparts of the "acta."
and in some cases, infact, entire copies of the "actadiurna" transcribed. and that way they could keepup with what was happening. but they didn't just what theraw content of the "acta," they wanted the discussionof it the commentary and the analysis that theirfriends would provide around it as well. so the romans were usingtheir friends to sift the news and to deliver the news.
it was a social distributionsystem for all of this stuff because, of course,there was no broadcast. there was no printing press. it was the only way youcould actually do it. and this seems towork very well. we can tell thatnews from rome would get to britain inthe west and syria in the east in aboutfive or six weeks. and that's really not bad.
so news would propagate infrom the provinces to rome, and then would bealso distributed from the center outwards. and there were boatsgoing to and fro. seneca is very amusing. he writes about how some peoplewere so obsessed with getting their mail that they-- whenthey saw the ships coming from egypt with the mail-- theywould rush down to the harbor. and he would sit downand sort of laugh at them
in the same way thatpeople who are addicted to their blackberrysare mocked-- or used to be when anyonehad blackberrys. and this is a sortof being hooked on the dopamine rush togetting your mail is something that even theromans were mocking. probably the most effectiveuser for the roman social media system was the apostle paul. and he used it todistribute the epistles.
if you think about it,epistles are letters. this is a classic exampleof how roman letters were passed around. and so, this is whatpaul says in his letter to the colossians. so he's got thisnetwork of churches across asia minor and greece. and he's writing to them all. and he's encouraging them toread out the letters in church,
and then to copy themto local churches. and also to getcopies of the letter that he's writtento those churches. and what happensis all the chapters end up with a set of all theletters that he's written. and they end up being madeinto part of the new testament. and by doing this,what he's doing is binding together thiscommunity of churches. he's making them feel likea distributed group that
are connected to each other. and they hear about one ofthe church's being persecuted, and they're invited to prayfor the members of that church. and he resolves matters ofdoctrine and answers questions. and that's something thatthey're all interested in and they all want to hear about. so he helps to formthe christian church in the first centuryad using social media. and the socialdistribution of the epistle
are still going on today. in churches on sundayswhen epistle is read out, that is the samesocial distribution system still in action. which is something that's beengoing on for a very long time. and in fact, what paul's doingis he's arguing at this stage with other members ofthe early church who think that christianityshould be just the jews. and he's arguing that, no, itshould be open to everyone.
and because he essentially runsthe more effective social media campaign, he prevails. which is whychristianity ends up being an open religionin the way that it did. so this is, as faras i could see, the first example ofa social media system. you've got enoughliteracy, you've got enough-- it's cheapenough to copy and deliver information.
and so you get social mediafirst in the roman world. and what i do inthe book is i look at many other examples of this. so i'll touch on acouple of others. so here's the second one. this is 1,500 years later. again it involvesthe christian church. but instead of using socialmedia to reinforce the church, this is martin luther using itto actually split the church.
that wasn't hisinitial intention. initially, he justwanted to have a debate about thedoctrine of indulgences. and these are sort of ticketsthat the catholic church would sell you to get out ofpurgatory after you died. and the idea was that ifyou gave them some money to help them build-- in thiscase, saint peter's rome, that giant cathedral--they would then give you a ticket that wouldmean when you died,
you wouldn't have to spendso long in purgatory. and luther thought thisall sounded a bit silly. because the sales peoplewere saying you could also buy tickets for your alreadydead relatives who were, presumably, stuck inpurgatory at that point, and you'd be able torelease them straight away. and they were playingwell at fast and loose with this doctrine. so luther drew up this listof problems he had with this.
if he'd done it thesedays, he'd have done it-- i'm sure-- as a listicle. it would've been on buzzfeed. you know, 95 crazyquestions the pope must answer about indulgences. but of course, it wasn't. it was 1518, sohe didn't do that. instead, he wrote them in latinand pinned them to the door to church in bittenburgwhere he was a theologian.
and this was the noticeboard for the university. so he was invitingpeople to come and debate with him about this. now, this was soexplosive that people started to copy down thetheses and circulate them to their friends. these are the thesesthat he wanted to debate. the 95 theses. and so far, this sounds likea roman distribution system.
you've got people copyingstuff down in latin and sending it to theirfriends, manuscript form. but of course, what's happenedsince the roman period is the printing presshas been invented. and so eventually, someprinters get hold of this and they print them. and print 1,000 copies, sothat's a very big increase in the number ofcopies in circulation. those copies getcarried to other towns.
those printers there gethold of it, they print it. some of the printerstranslate this into german so that more people can read it. and the result is thatthese 95 propositions-- written in, frankly, veryimpenetrable theological latin-- spreadvery, very quickly. and a contemporaryof luther's says that in fact it tooktwo weeks for the theses to spread throughoutgermany, and only a month
for the rest ofcontinental europe. so this was extraordinary. and it was a completesurprise to luther. he wasn't expecting to do this. he said, the theses "areprinted and circulated far beyond my expectation." but he realized this presentedhim with an opportunity. if he wanted to take hismessage about problems with the corruptionof the catholic church
and the need to reformit to the people, he could use this mechanism. so he followed up with a seriesof pamphlets, mostly written in german. and a very easy tounderstand german which avoided any sort ofdialectic-- regional dialects. and he would simply take thetext on one of these pamphlets that he would write and giveit to a printer in his town. and they wouldprint 1,000 copies.
and then those copies wouldripple to other towns. and printers there wouldprint them as well. they would spread andspread in this way. and he didn't haveto do anything. the audience was sufficientlyinterested in his message that they amplifiedit themselves. and the printers were sortof special super nerds who could make this applicationmuch, much more efficient. and so you could measurehow effectively his campaign
worked. today, we measure social mediacampaigns by how many +1s or likes or retweets orreblogs or repins they get. but for luther it wasthe number of reprints by printers that's thereally crucial thing. and it shows that you can domartin luther's traffic stats. and it looks like this. and this shows you have a greatbig spike in traffic in 1523, which is the heightof the reformation.
where you've gotall the order world 353 prints of1,000-- maybe 2,000-- copies of these pamphlets. what's happening here isthat the blue pamphlets are latin ones and thered ones are german ones. and the dark bits are thenumber of new pamphlets that martin lutheris issuing each year. and the white ones arethe number of reprints. so you see, mostly what he'sdoing is writing in german.
but he did write some inlatin because he was also addressing thetheological audience to who he wrote in latin. you can see that the retweetsof existing pamphlets are sort of moreimportant than the number of the actual pamphletsthat he's putting out. and overall, there was somethinglike 5 to 7 million pamphlets by luther and othersfloating around europe within the first 10years of the reformation.
and the result was the splittingof western christendom, and the emergence of protestantchurches and protestant christianity. so this is the result ofsocial media campaign that is helped along byimprovements in the technology of propagation, inthis case printing. here's another example very dearto me which is coffee houses. and coffee houses wereparticularly popular in england.
and they became popularin the second half of the 17th century. and coffee houses weremedia sharing platforms. you went to thembecause they had all sorts of things to read. so this is anexample on the right of what a pamphletwould look like. and again, pamphletswere very often written in the form of letters, evenif they weren't actually
letters to real people. so this is a letterfrom a gentleman in kent to a friend in london. and this is aliterary device just to say a particular thingabout what's going on. but it was the sort of thingyou'd find in coffee houses where you could go and you wouldfind a very free conversation. and you could read all mannerof printed news instead of being used books-- whichare precursors of newspapers.
there would bepamphlets, there would be handwritten newsletters thatwere called "letters of news." these were gathered by theprecursors of journalists. they were people who wentaround listening and talking and exchanging gossip andthen they'd write it down and they would sendthese "letters of news" to paying subscribersin the countryside. and again, that's quite a romansort of way of doing things. so you can find all ofthese things in coffee house
and you could discussstuff with people. and it was a very alluringinformation environment. and we see this from thediary of samuel pepys. he often says, "serviceto the coffee house." and he tells you all the sortsof amazing people he would meet and things you would learn. that he would meet a merchantfrom the south seas who'd seen people who'd learnto write with their feet. or there's a new kind offruit called a pineapple,
or that sort of thing. and so it was a very alluringinformation environment. in fact, some peoplethought it was too alluring. and that people werespending too much of their time just hangingout and coffeehouse networking and sharing gossipwith their friends. so it's a very sortof recognizably modern environment. and one of the reasons that itwas that people were encouraged
to mix socially in a waythat they otherwise normally wouldn't. so there was aconvention of politeness in coffee housesand a convention that you would leavedistinctions of social class behind as you entered there. so you would enter,you would pay a penny for dish of coffee--and that was the kind of admissionprice-- and then
you could join inthe conversation. and the idea was, as acontemporary description, "gentleman mechanic,lord and scoundrel mix and are all of a piece." what this meansis that ideas were able to cross socialboundaries in a way that they previouslycouldn't have done. and so this was what made goingto a coffee house so exciting. that you never knew--the serendipity
was part of the attraction. you never knew who you mightmeet or what you might learn. and i have many moreexamples in the book. this is a commonplace book. commonplace bookswere notebooks where you would write down cool stuff. and it might be apoem that had been sent by a friend, a newsonnet by shakespeare perhaps. or an aphorism-- maybe you'rereading one of the classics,
and there was aparticularly good quote from cicero or from tacitusor something like that. you think, oh that's great,i'm going to write that down in my commonplace book. and that way, when youwanted to remember it later, you'd know that it wasin your commonplace book. and then you mightalso write a letter to a friend saying,by the way, i've come across this reallygreat quote today.
and they would then-- ifthey thought it was awesome as well, they would copy itinto their commonplace books. sometimes people wouldexchange commonplace books. or they would sometimesshare commonplace books within families, within groupsof friends, where people would write these things downand write poems and comment on each other's stuff. and this looks to bevery similar to what we see with, say,tumblr and pinterest,
where 80 percent of the contentcirculating on those networks is rebills or repins ofother people's stuff. so it's self expressionthrough the curation of other people's content. and some of what youpost is original, but actually thevast majority is the selection ofother people stuff. so that is quite astriking parallel i think, with the way somesocial platforms work today.
and there are others as well. i talk about pamphletsin the english civil war, the circulation of poetryin the tudor court, the circulation ofpamphlets in the run up to the americanrevolution, the circulation of poems on tiny slipsof paper in the run up to the french revolution. and all of thesehave characteristics that are very similarto different aspects
of social media today. so the idea, thatis, that this has all got a much deeper and richerhistory than we might think. so what happened it? why is it that we've failedto notice this before? well, i think the reason isthat we had this big shift that took place in the19th century where we went from this sortof network topology to this sort of thing.
and essentially,machines were invented starting with the steampress and later radio and tv transmitters. that made it possible to deliverinformation single message to a large audiencevery, very efficiently. and this changed the waythat information travelled. people still wroteeach other letters and exchangedinformation socially. but this is wasmuch more efficient
that more of their media dietcame from these centralized one way broadcast sources. if you look at newspapers in thebeginning of the 19th century, the average circulationnewspaper was 1,000 or 2,000/ they were very, verylocal and they were sent to the local's social platforms. most of what wasin newspapers was letters sent in by readers,reports of speeches, and so on. it was not articles writtenby professional journalists.
and what happens by theend of the 19th century is that steam presses make itpossible to have newspapers with a million copiesbeing produced a day. and what this does--because the equipment needed to do this to reacha large audience is so expensive--that gradually, the scale of theseplatforms goes up and the barrier to entrygets bigger and bigger. this means that the accessto that technology--
the ability to send yourthoughts to lots of people-- is concentrated into thehands of a very small number of people-- journalists andopinion leaders, politicians. and most people arenot participating in the system other than tobe recipients of information. and i think the most sort ofthe infamous example of this is the nazi volksempfanger. so we've heard of thevolkswagen, the people's car. this is the people's receiver.
and the nazis recognizedthe power of radio to impress their view of theworld on the german people. and the volksempfangerwas deliberately designed not to be able topick up foreign broadcast. so all you could listen towas the fuhrer banging on. "dans deutschlandhurt dem fuhrer." so, "the whole ofgermany is the fuhrer." you could see thatthere they all are, gathered symbolicallyaround this radio.
this is as far away from thesocial media distribution as is possible to get. this is a single manimposing his view of the world onan entire nation. this is one way. and this is as unequalas it's possible to be. but of course what happenedin the past 10 years is that the internethas massively reduced the cost of deliveringinformation to large audiences.
so it's now possible for socialdistribution systems to compete with broadcast and withmass media in a way that it previously couldn't. and we can seeinformation to shifting. we can see people arespending less time watching tv and reading newspapers, andmore time on social platforms getting their friends to filterinteresting stuff towards them. and there are lots of surveysof young people showing that they don't readnewspapers at all.
and my children don'twatch television, they kind of watch youtube. and a lot of whatthey watch on youtube is usually generated contentmade by people like them for people like them. so i think this means we needto look at the history of media in a very different way. we used to thinkof it like this-- where we had old media, whichwas analog, and broadcast.
and then theinternet came along, and we have newmedia and digital and it was moresocial in nature. and this is a partof the picture. i think if we look atthe last 2,000 years, it looks like this. we need to have thisperiod of really old media because nobody isnot really that old. i have the arbitrarydate of 1833 here.
because that's the year thatthe first penny newspaper was launched, "the new york sun." and it was the first newspaperthat adopted the new mass media model where most of the moneycame from advertisers not subscribers. and you use the fact thatyou had a large audience to appeal to advertisers whothen gave you that money. to bootstrap that model, thefounder of "the new york sun" did a rather clever thing.
instead of selling his newspaperat $0.06 like everyone else, he sold it at $0.01 whichmeans he'd lose money. so he copied ad wordsfrom the other newspapers and put them in. and then he went toadvertisers and said, look, all of these othercompanies are advertising. maybe you should. and they all fellfor it and signed up. so that was how hebootstrapped the model.
and that modelworked very nicely, thank you, forthe media industry until just a few years ago. at the peak in 2007, anaverage american newspaper got 87 percent of itsrevenue from advertising. so that turned outto be unsustainable, and they're now havingto find new models. so i think we need tolook at it like this and we have to recognize thatthere was this very long period
of really old mediawhich, in many ways, is similar to new media. and what new media hasdone is brought back the spirit of the coffeehouseand the other social platforms that were around beforethe advent of mass media. so that means i think giventhat similarity between really old media and new media,that ancient old social media systems have lessonsfor us today. many of the questions wehave about social media today
actually arose in conjunctionwith these ancient social media systems as well. so i think that couldbe quite informative. and again, in the book i lookat several examples of this. but i'm just going totouch on three of them now that relate tothe three examples that i gave you earlieron-- so the roman, luther and coffeehouses. let's start with this one.
is social media merelya dangerous destruction that wastes time? this is very common tocritique of social media today. in particular, the ideathat social networking should really becalled not working. and it's a sort ofway of avoiding work rather in the way ofdoing anything useful. and this turns out tobe a timeless complaint. so this is oxford in the 1670's.
anthony wood, who wasan academic in oxford, is very worried about thefact that, "solid and serious learning is in decline." and the students arenot actually doing work anymore because they'rein coffee houses all the time. and it's not just in oxford. meanwhile in cambridge,"hours are spent in talking and less profitable readingof newspapers-- scholars are so greedy after newsthey neglect all for it."
and another pamphletfrom the period warns that coffee housesare "great enemies to diligence andindustry-- the ruin of many serious and hopefulyoung gentleman and tradesmen." and so this is all quitea modern sounding critique of these veryalluring platforms. they're so alluring thatpeople go in and don't realize what's happened andhours later as they emerge realizing that theafternoon has disappeared.
it has turned out to beactually exactly wrong. if you look at whatcoffee houses actually did in the late17th century, they turned out to be-- ratherthan enemies of diligence and industry-- they turned outto be crucibles of innovation. because of this mixingof ideas and people who had previously not beenable to encounter each other, this was a really,really fantastic place to come up with newideas, new ventures,
whether that was jointstock companies, whether it was the scientific revolution. the royal society came out ofmeetings held in coffeehouses by scientists. isaac newton writes "principamathematica," the foundation stone of modern science inorder to settle a coffeehouse argument betweenhook, haley, and rand about the nature of theinverse square law of gravity and its relationship tothe shapes of orbits.
lloyd's of london startsoff as a coffeehouse where marine shippers meetand discuss insurance. and then theyrealize that this is something they'reall interested in. you have lloyd's listpinned to the wall. it turns into lloyd's of london. it goes from coffeehouseto insurance market. similarly, there'sanother coffeehouse called jonathan's whereall the stock traders would
meet that turns into thelondon stock exchange. so all of this innovationcomes out of coffeehouses, because they're veryfertile environments where people and ideas can mix. and i think there'sa lesson for us there, that social mediaoffers us similar opportunities within companies, betweencompanies, and as scientists or individuals or artists--that we can encounter people and exchange ideas andcome up with new cool stuff
as a result of it. second question. so again, this is a verysort of current question. the role of social media inrevolutions and to what extent were facebook andtwitter factors in causing arab springand that sort of thing. well, it turns out that thisis also a very old debate, and we can ask martin luther. martin luther says, "from therapid spread of the theses,
i gather what the greaterpart of the nation thinks of indulgences." so this is a phenomenonthat media scholars call synchronization of opinion. if you were luther andyou saw your pamphlets spreading like wildfire--one description was that they weremore seized than sold. so people really couldn't waitto get their hands on them. then that toldyou that there was
quite a lot of supportfor your views. and more importantly, if youwere one of the readers of one of luther's pamphlets,pamphlets were quite accessible. they cost about thesame as a chicken. so they were much, muchless expensive than buying a book, which waslike buying a car. so they really wereaccessible to ordinary people. and if you went to theprinter in your town and said, i hear there's a new martinluther, have you got a copy?
and the printersaid, no, sold out. then you knew that lots ofother people in your town were interested inwhat luther had to say and probably agreed with youthat he was on to something. and so this was howpeople across europe were able to recognize thattheir views about the nature of the catholic church andcorruption in the higher echelons of the catholicchurch was shared by large numbersof other people.
and that's ultimatelywhat enabled the reformation to get going. and so i think the wayof thinking about this-- and we saw the samewith the arab spring, where previousefforts by governments had been successfulto stifle outbursts of local dissent,local protests. but social mediaeventually allowed people in one part oftunisia to tell people
in the rest of tunisiawhat was going on. and then people acrosstunisia could say, well, hang on a minute, we allthink that this isn't on. and then youactually get change. and so i think theway that you should think about this is thatsocial media doesn't actually trigger or start revolutions. there's an underlyinggrievance in both cases here about the corruptionof the catholic church
or of the despotic leadersin various arab countries. and that's the ultimate cause. and once there's aspark, social media synchronizes opinionand allows the protest to spread much more quickly. so it's like an accelerant. it doesn't start a fire, ithelps it spread more quickly. this is jared cohen'sidea, a google person. and i think he's put hisfinger on it by saying,
it's the accelerant, is theright way of thinking about it. finally, is social media a fad? well, i hope that my verybrief tour 2,000 years of it has convinced youto actually this is a very old idea withvery deep roots and a very rich history. if we go back tothis chart here you can see that actuallyit's old media that is the historical anomaly here.
this was just aconsequence of the fact that technologies topropagate information really quickly to large audiencesused to be really expensive. and they used to be onlyavailable to a small number of people. and there were businessmodels you could build around that to do with scarcityand local monopolies. but they don't workanymore, as we've seen what's happened tothe newspaper industry
in particular. so that was the anomaly. and really, new media and itssimilarity to really old media is a sort of reversion tothe way things used to be. so i think this is a fad at all. i think historically,the broadcast era was the sort of fad-sh bit. it was the historical anomaly. so i think that means that we,users of social media today,
are as to a centurieslong tradition even if we didn't realize it. what i've to tried to do isto put our use of social media today in historical context. and there are thesevery direct parallels between the source ofsocial media we use today, and the source that existedin the past like this. so i hope i've convinced youthat social media doesn't just connect us to each other today,it also links us to the past.
oh, this is my bookon the subject. this is what it looks like. audience: so iwas wondering what lessons you can draw fromthe really old media in terms of something else you mentioned,which was the business models for newspapers that havekind of become obsolete now? tom standage: well, i think allmedia companies are struggling with now is how they makesharing their friend. and we saw in-- the musicindustry was hit first by this.
and the model ofthe music industry has sort of ended up with isthat the emphasis on selling music-- that'sgoing to be of much more part of theirrevenues in future. and much more of it is goingto come from basically tickets to live events andmerchandise and so on. so there's beenthat shift there. similarly, newspapersare shifting away from advertising funded modelsto subscription funded models.
some of them can doadvertising from it, but they can't-- thenumber of papers, the number of publications thatthat model will sustain is-- because they're allcompeting globally-- is nothing like asbig as it used to be. but my favorite example isactually the asian video game model. where instead of theconsoles and selling the games and thelicensing fees to model
that we have inthe west, you have to model of distributingthe client software. and you actually wantas many copies of it to be made as possible, andto be as easy as possible to download it. and then you get a very largenumber of people playing a game and it's free to play. and then you sellin-game upgrades. and that's where you'llmodel comes from.
so this is a model that works. the more widely yourclient software is pirated, the better it works. and i think whatwe're all trying to do in differentparts of the industry is work out how we makesharing our friends in our particular industry. audience: so for every personthat creates something great based on social media or everygroup of people that does,
there's the average person. where it is genuinelyjust a big time suck and they're not going tocreate the next "principia mathematica". so are there any lessons we canglean from the really old media model to increase the amountof the great things that come from social media? tom standage: well, oneof the timeless complaints about media, whenevertechnology makes it easier
to distribute stuff isthat there's then too much. and that the wrong people arepublishing the wrong thing. so we see this now aboutthe trivialization, the coarsening of debate. and one man's trivialization isanother man's democratization. and if we look at whathappened to-- so erasmus is complaining aroundthe time of luther that there are all thesepamphlets flying around. they're really short.
they're in german sothey're really easy to read. and this means no one's readingthe classics in latin and greek anymore, which he thinksis a big-- terrible. so it's very similar tosort of modern complaints that as media becomes easierto consume and more people access to it thatit's a bad thing. but if you look at whathappened-- and then there was a sortof huge increase in the number of booksthat were published.
and people felt veryoverwhelmed by it. and people feel overwhelmedby what's happening now. but what actually happenedin the case of printing in the last bigstep change here, was that people figured outmechanisms, technologies, to cope and to sift thegood stuff from the bad. so things like-- in thecase of books-- book reviews and tables of contents andbibliography and indexes. and what all ofthose things are is
they are ways to figure outwhether a particular book is relevant to what you'redoing and to find the bits that arerelevant to you quickly. without having to read--because you can't plausibly read all of the booksabout everything. we're used to that now. we're never goingto be able books. so instead, we rely onthese other mechanisms to identify the good stuff.
and i think that'swhat we're going to have with-- we've obviouslyseen this with the internet. we had the yahoodirectory model. that was great for a while. then we had thesearch engine model. that also got its merits. now, we seem to be in a worldwhere we are using social as part of thefiltering process. and there's this combinationof search and social
that google is doing as well. so i think all of this is theprocess by which we determine where the valuable stuff is. and what's really goodabout these versions of it is that it's capable ofproducing different answers for different people. so what i think isthe really cool stuff will be different from what youthink is the really cool stuff. but as far as i'mconcerned, this
is the task you areengaged in which is helping people findthe-- organizing the world's and so what you're doing ispart of this very, very long historical continuumof some of what people have beentrying to do before. audience: what are your thoughtson the rate of information delivery and how that'schanged and maybe effected attention spans oranything like that? tom standage: well,certainly the analogy
isn't perfect in the sensethat the internet is global, instant, searchable,and maybe, permanent. we don't know howpermanent it is. so the analogy thoughi think is close enough to be informative because wesee the same social reactions. and my thesis is, in all ofmy writing about the history of technology, that weessentially-- our brains are still runningthe same stone age software anddifferent technologies
come and go and just push thesame buttons in our brains. so the twitter pushesthe same button for me as coffeehouses didfor the samuel pepys. so in that sense, i'm sort ofarguing that the rate of change doesn't-- you know, people have alwayscomplained about this before. a good example wouldbe the step change in the range of informationthat occurred with the telegraph in the 19th century.
if you look at howstockbrokers used to deal with theirclients, you might meet your stockbroker once ayear, or maybe twice a year. and you might say,i'm going to sell tea, i'm going to buy gold. what you think willhappen to the price of tea in next six months? and then the telegraphmeant that you could have multiple priceupdates every day, globally.
and stockbrokers were not reallyterribly impressed by this. because it meant that theyhad to work a lot harder, they were alwaysgetting messages to buy or sell this,that and the other. and they thought thiswas a big problem. but of course, then the nextgeneration of stockbrokers thought this was totallynormal and got used to it. so we actually see thispattern again and again. and we see the complaintthat attention spans
are getting shorter. we particularly see it withthe telegraph, actually. that it makes people nervous. that we only skim thesurface of things. that it leads to politiciansspeaking in soundbites. these are allactually complaints that arrive in the 19th century. so they're not actually newand the world didn't end then. people have gotten used to it.
so i think that justtells us that we will just get used to it again. we'll have to find andidentify and create these coping mechanisms. some of which aretechnological, like tables of contents or search engines. and some of which aresocial technologies, customs about how we shouldand should not use things. but that's what's particularlybewildering about this.
and living through a periodwhere we're still figuring out our answers to those questions. audience: i was justlooking at your timeline and wanting to goback the other way. i think you can add twomore giant blocks of time to that view whichis the dark ages. which was a very centralizedmedia from the church world. there's a thousand year blockwhere it wasn't the old media. tom standage: sowhat's the other block?
audience: therewas another block before that was in the ageof primitives and ziggurats. again, strong central control. tom standage: well, yesi see what you mean. especially, itdepends what you mean by the consumption of media. so most people aren'tconsuming it at all. in the dark ages, you've got-- audience: well, it's the church.
tom standage: you've gotmonks writing stuff out, and then you've got the pulpitas a sort of quasi broadcast medium. yes. but i think that mostpeople are not-- where are they getting-- they're justnot consuming media at all. so the actual-- so it'svery hard to work out what the balance ofdistributed versus-- centralized versussocial media is--
i should also stress this isvery much western centric view. i have been looking fornon western examples, and there's some quitenice cases of social poetry in 10th and 11th centuryjapan, for example. and what i'm hopingwill happen is that the publicationof this book will sort of flushout some more examples and i'll be able to broaden it. going back to the periodbefore the romans,
i think basically theliteracy rates were very low. if you look at-- there areexamples of-- you'll see, there are a couple i havein the book where they're are scribes in egypt whohave a sort of poetry club. and they send each other poems. but they were really very,very few examples of it because literacy isso so restricted. and in fact, in egypt's,the scribes deliberately avoided adopting the muchmore efficient technology
of the alphabetbecause they wanted it to be hard to read and write. because they wanted topreserve their special status as people who could do it. and so, they actually foughtagainst this far more efficient way of the way of doing things. so that's why i think itreally starts with the romans where you have a reasonablywidespread use of media by ordinary people and then theyare sharing it in a social way.
audience: the library ofalexandria comes to mind. also, the retrieving of thebuddhist [inaudible] from india and spread of buddhism onthe silk road is another-- tom standage: so theretrieval of-- so that's involvingwritten documents. audience: writtendocuments, yes. tom standage: oh, brilliant. they-- yeah. so this is the kind of thingthat is being flushed out.
that's what i want to find. audience: you were sayingthat if your book was copied or your letter was copiedin-- that's like re tweeting. and now, people wheneverthey publish something or your youtube videosif a lot of views then you're theoretically--right-- making more money? but that didn't seemto be part of it. because if thathappened today, right, there would be all thiscopyright, oh my gosh,
people are selling my book. so was they're not--i mean, were people not trying to earn money? there's definitely somedifference here, i'm not-- tom standage: yeahno, that's true. so i mean, copyrights area relatively modern idea. it goes back to the beginningof the 18th century. and so roman authorsdidn't expect to be able to makemoney because they knew
that the only way toget their book out there was unrestrictedcopying by the audience. and that was-- theycouldn't imagine that any other way of doing it. and they wrote books with aview to becoming more famous, winning patronage,getting a nice job. and that's how theybenefited from them. so that's clearly a differentway of doing things. what then laterhappens with printing
is that pamphleteerswould be paid little or nothingto write pamphlets. they would be paid in the formof copies of their pamphlets that they could give to people. and again, it wasa patronage thing. so it's rather like thedeal i have with wordpress. which is that i don't paythem, but i give them content and then they gaveme distribution. so i'm paid back in theability to reach an audience.
so that's quite a similar model. and this idea that you ownstuff and you have a right to make money from it isactually quite recent. and as we can see, itit's now become harder to enforce than it used to be. so that sort ofownership of content is very much a mass mediaway of looking at the world. and we do see somepeople asking, how you look beyond that?
should you have your music onspotify and then make money? but you hardly makeanything from it at all. and make money from otherthings if you're a musician? and to what extent? cory doctorow gives awayhis books as ebooks. and we're all trying to workout what the sort of new models are around that. but there werepeople in the past you managed to make aliving from doing things
in a sort of indirect way. so maybe we can borrowsome of their models. audience: i haven'tread the book, so i'm not sure ifthere's a chapter that talks about the culturedifference like west or east difference in terms ofthe influence of social media revolution? and also-- tom standage: i onlyconsider western.
audience: western, ok. tom standage: so i'm awareof a few examples in asia, but like i don't feel ican see into the literature there so i don't thinki have a sort of-- i'm very aware of my limitationsof my understanding of that. so i'd be grateful forany suggestions you have. how do you see the differencein the attitude towards those? audience: i'm from china. at least, you know i don'tknow too much on the old media
phase. but even in the current phase,right, after 2000, there's no social network but there'sa similar-- facebook, twitter, like that. but they all are kindof run differently. at the least, it'snot truly distributed. you still have alittle bit censored under government control. so that's kind of avery hybrid model.
tom standage: well, yes. i mean, to be honest, oneof the striking things about social networkingin the west as well today is that it'sextremely centralized and it's run byprivate companies. so we treat it as thoughit's a public sphere, but it's not really. it's not a town square,it's more like a mall. it's privately owned.
and if facebook doesn'tlike something that you say or whatever they canshut down your page. but again, i think there'sa historical analogy there. which is if you look at whathappened to aol and compuserve, they were swept away by the openstandards of web publishing. and i wonder whether the sameis true for social media. there have been various attemptsto build open distributed standards for social media. but it seems weird thati can set up my own web
server or my ownemail server, but i have to go tofacebook or twitter or google to dosocial networking. so that's one of thingsi'm very interested to see how that changes. because that may bea historical anomaly. it's just that doingtimely, in order delivery of social streams is really,really hard distributing. usenet used to do this.
and it didn't doit terribly well. it was very slow. so there are advantagesto a centralized model, but there are drawbacks as well. audience: so there'sa concept called wemedia is that you can comment. wemedia. i think at least inchina it's very popular. you just set up somesite, and the public,
some journalismjust quit that job. it run some sites themselves a-- tom standage: but it's stilla centralized site then. i mean, i think we need a sortof equivalent to imap or http that does establishing socialconnections-- basically friend connections, statusupdates, that sort of stuff. and there have beenvarious attempts to do it. the most recent onewas called temp.io, which was quiteclever i thought.
but it's hard to seehow any of these things can get off theground because you need to get the ball rolling. and the existing networkshave such a big advantage because they have thesemassive advantages of scale. so i don't know. but it happened with theweb, so maybe it can happen. great, well, thankyou all very much, and it's great to be here.