cover image Writing on the Wall: Social Media%E2%80%94the First 2,000 Years

Writing on the Wall: Social Media%E2%80%94the First 2,000 Years

Tom Standage. Bloomsbury, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-62040-283-2

The Economist's digital editor Standage (A History of the World in Six Glasses) draws comparisons between modern social media and the forms of communication and information dissemination used over 2,000 years to show how, in fact, "History retweets itself." Examples include ancient Roman graffiti that bears a strong resemblance to a Facebook status update: "On April 19, I made bread" and Martin Luther's 95 theses, perhaps the first document to go viral, selling two thousand copies from 1520-1526. The same era saw propaganda woodcuts featuring "bold graphics with a smattering of text," similar to modern day memes. In the court of Elizabeth I, people like Sir John Harington, inventor of the flushing toilet, were prized for their "witty epigrams" that read like tweets. Standage traces the origins of the American press as a source of shared rebellion leading up to the Revolutionary War and radio broadcasting as a source of culture in Britain and propaganda in Nazi Germany. Finally, Standage discusses the influence of the internet from its conception in a UCLA computer lab to its involvement in 2011's Arab Spring. Standage captures quite beautifully the essence of the human need to connect and interact, both its banality and world-altering power. (Oct.)