Archive for the 'History' Category

Nature´s Metropolis

A book by William Cronon

Nature's metropolis : Chicago and the Great West

Nature’s metropolis : Chicago and the Great West

William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis is a history of Chicago. A city that emerged in the northern Midwest against considerable odds; but nevertheless achieved in a very short period of time a position of dominance in trade, in particular for lumber and agricultural products. Chicago revolutionized forever the way marketplaces (i.e. stock exchanges) worked. Later it also became a hub for the revolution in transportation and communication that marked the explosive industrial development of the 19th century. Chicago is a city created around a commercial idea, not out of any settlers’ necessity or government expansion project to the frontier land. It is a quintessential American city, as described by Whitman: “They shall fully enjoy materialism and the sight of products, they shall enjoy the sight of the beef, lumber, bread-stuffs, of Chicago the great city.”

Continue reading ‘Nature´s Metropolis’

The New Sit-ins are a Hashtag

Egypt (anonymous photo from Reddit)

Egypt (anonymous photo from Reddit)

The recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have rekindled the discussion about the role of social networks, and triggered a speech by Secretary Clinton about Internet freedom. The speech emphasizes that it is the people who change regimes, but access to the Internet must be protected. Heedless governments continue to look for ways to restrict access and online anonymity, or even use the Internet as a weapon. Corporations look the other way when it comes to censorship.

Containment is a thorny issue. Where is the line that separates a protest, from a riot or a flash-mob, when they emerge in loosely coupled social networks and messaging systems, and spread rapidly? Who are those online activists, are they influenced by political groups unseen? What is legitimacy when identity is just a nickname in a Twitter account or an email?  The recent history of digital activism is patchy. Continue reading ‘The New Sit-ins are a Hashtag’

The Memory of the Social Thing

Some ideas about how to go approach writing a history of the Online Social Network, the Virtual World (and MMORPGs)…

The first step is to consider how Tom Standage has made a good case that the first instance of a social network, albeit not online or digital, was the telegraph network.  The telegraph was not only a new way of instant communication, a matter which in itself was quite revolutionary at the time.   More interesting was that people created new social activities within the telegraphic network: they played chess, engaged in romantic relationships over the wire, and new forms of crime and fraud were created.  A similar and probably more marked social role had the telephone network later in the century.  Both telegraph and telephone enabled an instant socio-geographical reach not seen before. 

However, both telegraph and telephone systems did lack one important aspect of the later OSN: storage, or an internal memory of the social.  Both were not able to store the information of the activities between the parties for later retrieval and use.  The information about the social interaction was stored in the outer points of the network, in a different media like paper, recordings and plain human memory.  As such, both systems depended on the human element to function as a social construct.

With the advent of the electronic networks and computers this began to change.  At first computers in the fringes of the networks were able to store and manage the information of the transactions (like early e-mail systems), and then when the storage started moving towards the network itself the possibility of the OSN was created.

The development of an electronic system for the exchange of written personal letters and short messages was the next step.  Electronic mail, or E-mail, as it became widely known, was the first instance of an electronic communication designed for human use that was both a social interaction, and stored the information about the interaction, the parties involved and the relevant time and place circumstances.  It used a store-and-forward method of delivery. 

 The first widespread e-mail systems operated using the ARPANET as a transport medium in 1969 and the early 1970s.  Before that some instances of e-mail were present in time-sharing computers at MIT as early as 1965.  E-mail has remained to this day very much the same in structure, but its social and commercial use, and abuse, has reached enormous proportions in the first decade of the 2000s.  It may be well possible to reconstruct whole social models from the content of e-mail messages alone, since e-mail carries the complete social memory within the message.

Tom Standage,  “The Victorian Internet”, see



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