The original social network

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus are new, but what they do is not new.

A few months ago I experienced an interesting enlightenment, an epiphany you might say.

It’s beyond cliché to talk about how technology has changed the way we communicate.

My epiphany, however, was that technology changes the way we communicate, but not what we communicate.

In other words, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus are new, but what they do is not new.

One comment I hear frequently from people, particularly those too old to care or bother to use social media, for reasons I am perfectly in sympathy with, is that people tend to post extremely personal and intimate information about themselves out of a sense of narcissism or desire for attention.

This is true. I’ve seen Facebook profiles that read like diaries, except nobody has an incentive to lie or exaggerate in their diary.

The fascinating thing is that this is not new at all. While doing research for my series on three historical events in the area, I went to the Maple Valley Historical Society gathering documents and background material. There, I also looked at the first Maple Valley newspaper, the Maplevalley Messenger, which came out in 1921.

A quick glance told me how much things have changed for newspapers. For one, even in a tiny community, the newspaper cost money, albeit three cents, or thirty seven cents today.

But what struck me were the stories published in it. None of them seemed old-fashioned in terms of what they wrote. In many cases, they appear identical to the posts people publish on Facebook and Twitter. The only difference is the writing style and where they published it.

In other words, the concept of Twitter and Facebook are not actually new in that people like to write about themselves. As newspapers from the early 1900s show, people merely did so in another manner and published it differently.

Technology hasn’t changed people as much as it has changed how they do what they have always done. I’ve observed this with people who grew up writing letters as a means of personal correspondence who have a difficult time transitioning over to email, particularly with how they view chain mail.

For example, publishing a marriage or birth announcement in a newspaper is a very traditional practice. But I’ve noticed more and more people use Facebook, which is easier, more personal, and is guaranteed to be seen by their friends and family (at least those with Facebook accounts).

In a strange way, Facebook is merely an individualized, private newspaper publication, their personalized account of record you might say.

Whether or not you find it comforting that people haven’t changed is another matter entirely.

Here are a few sample stories from the Messenger I thought were worthy of re-publication.

“Our friend Dan Lagesson has recently show great interest in infants. His mother was kept waiting six hours the other day, and when Dan returned he declared he had been visiting a baby. More information may be obtained from Dan himself.”

“Frank Johnson went to Seattle the other day and tried to climb a street car with his Ford with the result that he had to be towed to a garage.”

“A number of young folks attended a birthday party in honor of Miss Merle Onstine on Wednesday evening at the home of W. D. Gibbon.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Clay Emmerton spent a couple of days in Tacoma for their Christmas shopping.”

“Miss Ann Ryan, formerly a teacher in the Crosson school, visited friends in Maplevalley on Saturday and Sunday.”

And for those of you who complained about the lack of ball fields, you might enjoy this one:

“Baseball season will be opening in Maplevalley. Mr. Seeling and the school boys are busily engaged in clearing up a diamond on which to practice.”

This excerpt below from a petition could be a modern day Facebook group or blog.

“We, the undersigned, being classmates of William Carey and the pupils of Mr. Bennett, do hereby and hereon most sincerely protest the action taken by our teacher, Mr. Bennett, in suspending indefinitely our classmate, William Carey. We ask in the name of fair play that the discrimination practised (sic) against our classmate by his teacher, Mr. Bennett, be stopped at once and his re-instatement effected.”

Lastly, I couldn’t resist printing this one:

“Editing a newspaper is no picnic. If we print jokes, folks say we are silly — if we don’t, they say we are too serious. If we publish original matter, they say we lack variety — if we publish things from other papers, they say we are too lazy to write. If we don’t go to church, we are heathens — if we do, we are hypocrites.

If we stay in the office, we ought to be rustling for news — if we are rustling news, we are not attending to business in the office. If we wear old clothes, we are slovenly — if we wear new clothes they are not paid for.

What in the thunder is a poor editor to do anyhow?

Likely as not, someone will say we swiped this from exchange. We did.”

Some things never change. We haven’t.