Book Thing #25: Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years

This Month’s BookThing is Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years by Tom Stangage.

From Amazon.com:

Writing on the WallPapyrus rolls and Twitter have much in common, as each was their generation’s signature means of “instant” communication. Indeed, as Tom Standage reveals in his scintillating new book, social media is anything but a new phenomenon.

From the papyrus letters that Roman statesmen used to exchange news across the Empire to the advent of hand-printed tracts of the Reformation to the pamphlets that spread propaganda during the American and French revolutions, Standage chronicles the increasingly sophisticated ways people shared information with each other, spontaneously and organically, down the centuries. With the rise of newspapers in the nineteenth century, then radio and television, “mass media” consolidated control of information in the hands of a few moguls. However, the Internet has brought information sharing full circle, and the spreading of news along social networks has reemerged in powerful new ways.

A fresh, provocative exploration of social media over two millennia, Writing on the Wall reminds us how modern behavior echoes that of prior centuries—the Catholic Church, for example, faced similar dilemmas in deciding whether or how to respond to Martin Luther’s attacks in the early sixteenth century to those that large institutions confront today in responding to public criticism on the Internet. Invoking the likes of Thomas Paine and Vinton Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet, Standage explores themes that have long been debated: the tension between freedom of expression and censorship; whether social media trivializes, coarsens or enhances public discourse; and its role in spurring innovation, enabling self-promotion, and fomenting revolution. As engaging as it is visionary, Writing on the Wall draws on history to cast new light on today’s social media and encourages debate and discussion about how we’ll communicate in the future.

About Tom Standage:

Tom StandageTom Standage is digital editor at The Economist, overseeing the magazine’s website, Economist.com, and its smartphone, tablet and e-reader editions. Before that he was business affairs editor, running the back half of the magazine, and he previously served as business editor, technology editor and science correspondent. Tom is also the author of five history books, including “An Edible History of Humanity” (2009), “A History of the World in Six Glasses” (2005), a New York Times bestseller, and “The Victorian Internet” (1998), described by the Wall Street Journal as a “dot-com cult classic”. He writes the video-game column for Intelligent Life, The Economist’s lifestyle magazine, is a regular commentator on BBC radio, and has written for other publications including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the New York Times and Wired. He holds a degree in engineering and computer science from Oxford University, and is the least musical member of a musical family. He is married and lives in London with his wife and children, and is currently working on his next book, on the prehistory of social media.


To earn 2 CE credits answer the following three questions in a 300 word blog post or a three minute video posted to your blog:

  1. What did you / what can librarians learn from this book?
  2. How might the focus of this book impact library service?
  3. How might the focus of this book impact library users?

If you would like to plan ahead, next month’s book will be Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

Please contact the Information Services Team if you’d like to check out any of these titles from the Commission. Thanks.

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One Response to Book Thing #25: Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years

  1. Maria Cadwallader says:

    Afraid you’ve got another really long review to read. I LOVE this book. The review is on my blog:

    http://mariacfromval.wordpress.com

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