A great sunday morning read : http://blog.longreads.com/2015/08/20/loving-books-in-a-dark-age/
To be honest I can't remember where I saw the link to this originally. Had a bit of a getaway weekend with my wife, Manuela, at our favourite hotel, The Sukhothai in Bangkok. Ate too much, drank sufficiently and while sitting by the pool on saturday was downloading different "looks interesting" articles from various Linkedin posts, most of which proved less than satisfactory. This one however was terrific. I great read over an very long and indulgent breakfast on Sunday morning. Thanks to whoever originally posted it.
A chapter from a new book about reading in the European Dark Ages and in particular about one of the really important innovators of media in history, the Venerable Bede as he has come to be known. Of course most of you may not have heard of him, and those that have probably know him as the writer of the first general history of what is now England. But beyond being a sixth century story of velum and ink this is a great story of the development of one strain of social media ; the reading of books.
AND IT IS GREAT. Apart from being well written and having the desired effect of getting me to go on-line and look at buying the full book from which it is extracted. Apart from being full of little facts about the contribution Bede made to the written form as we know it. Apart from a really easy to follow introduction to the roles the English and Irish monastries played in keeping knowledge alive after the fall of the Roman Empire this is the story of the copyists and commentators and writers and readers of the latest information on things that mattered. Hey that sounds like us, you and I , the people who populate Linkedin with copying and pasting ( most posts ), sometimes commentating on the post. Personally folks I get annoyed when people just copy an article without any commentary ... tell us why you like it. Or then there is the great majority who just read what others have shared and then the real minority, those that write original posts.
Read the chapter of the book and you will be amazed at how much it sounds like Linkedin ( or some other digital "social medium" ). And that is because the book was the great social medium for a millenium and a half.
And just like it's 21st century social medium brethren the book of the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Reformation, Enlightenment etc was read silently. It was only around the time of Bede that punctuation and grammer as we know it was invented and therefore made reading aloud plausable. Read the chapter for more on that.
The BIG point is that just like this post, and your FB updates and the tweets that keep interupting you WE READ SOCIAL MEDIA IN SILENCE AND ALONE !! What a contradiction? It's "social" but we imbibe it in silence, well maybe a giggle at the latest Minnions cartoon on FB, or a groan at yet another "professional" posting about the importance of big data, or a tweet of Donald Trump's latest idiocy. Because in one sense social media is anything but social. It's something we share alone and in silence. The legendary soap box speakers of 19th century Hyde Park in London were more social than you and I right now. I sit here writing in silence and, I hope, there is someone in the following days sitting at a screen reading this in silence. "Solitary media" might be a better term.
And that is where it is just like the book, or rather the book as it developed in Europe in the 5th-7th centuries, and then was industrialised in the 15th. Books were more than the words in them. They were the ultimate gift, the way of gluing people and ideas together, of spreading news, of socialising thoughts. We have the impression that back then the book was just years of hand copying by poor desk bound monks. Yes they were. But those monks were the social media contributors of the day. They way they copied and what they copied, the notations snuck into margins , the choice of colors, inks and graphic design in illustrations, not to mention the commentaries produced by those like Bede ( just like in today's social media the real minority who share original content rather than just copy the latest fad ) meant every book was unique, each a reflection of thoughts produced and shared.
We get very carried away with what is new. Especially the broader marketing world who like to think each time there is a new "media revolution" that all binds with the past are broken. But this sunday morning read reminded me once again that in the history of media nothing is new, just updated, modified and re-launched. Thanks Venerable Bede for being the Larry, Mark etc of the first millenia.
As an ex-librarian Dave loves to leave references for further reading. Here are a selection of articles and posts you might find of interest.