Wick Communications

140 characters in the 18th century

In Writing on 16 Apr 2010 at 8:11 am

National Parks Service

I’m not sure what it means exactly, but it turns out Twitter has existed for hundreds of years … only it was called Diary.

The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog had an interesting little thing this week comparing the 21st century social media site to 18th and 19th century diaries. It quotes a Cornell professor named Lee Humphreys who noted that today’s tweets bear a striking resemblance to yesterday’s brief entries in pocket-sized diaries.

Humphreys says that the small size of the diaries necessitated short quips and that they weren’t considered secret sacred texts the way some perceive their diaries today. Rather they were intended as a sort-of log of daily life and were often shared with family and friends.

Here are a couple of the diary entries the Journal reprinted to prove the point …

  • May 14, 1770: Mrs. Mascarene here and Mrs. Cownsheild. Taken very ill. The Doctor bled me. Took an anodyne.
  • Sept. 7, 1792: Fidelia Mirick here a visiting to-day.
  • Jan. 26, 1873: Cold disagreeable day. Felt very badly all day long and lay on the sofa all day. Nothing took place worth noting.

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries’ ends her blog post:

Dr. Humphreys said the research serves as a good reminder that not everything in new media is entirely new. “It’s helpful to put things into historical context,” Dr. Humphreys said. “It’s amazing how much human nature hasn’t really changed all that much.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that interesting. If there is a basic human need to share our lives, perhaps that is a need we can meet – through an online forum, comments to stories, our letters to editors. Perhaps there is nothing really new under the sun.

— Clay

  1. Only one difference: You have a global audience for your Twitter “diary.” So be careful. Also, I read recently that the National Archives is saving all Tweets for posterity. We live forever in our Tweets. What a comforting thought.

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