Thursday, 19 June 2014

Writing on the wall: Social Media’s first 2000 years. A video about a book by Tom Standage

By Abdullah Anees, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

At the beginning of our semester we were asked by our teacher Christian Fuchs to write a book review. The book had to be an academic reflection on social media. So I went away and searched for books by authors I could interview face to face.

I came across ‘Writing on the wall’ by Tom Standage, the digital editor of The Economist. In “Writing on the wall”, he argues how the concept of social media initially dates back to the Roman Period one century BC. He took me on an historical journey throughout time and highlighted how concepts of social media played roles throughout history.

From Cicero’s letters to Luther’s pamphlets to the modern day revolutions, Tom Standage discusses how sharing ideas that spread have had influences throughout time. After reading the book I can actually say looking back at history from a social media perspective was very interesting and enjoyable.

Graffiti on the walls of Pompeii or Tom’s comparison of old slates to a modern day iPad set a very engaging theme. However with any book review there are some parts you are left questioning. Questions I knew I would have the opportunity to ask Tom face to face.

Tom clearly outlines his intentions of the book in the introduction. He mentions his focus to be around the rise of social media in Western Europe and America. He admits that he is most comfortable in discussing Western media. However a more suited approach may have been to highlight the historical patterns of both social media in the East and West.

Another view I thought that would have made his work more engaging was if Tom related old social techniques to modern day techniques. One of the questions I asked him was if modern day graffiti could have been linked to graffiti in older societies and how they both were a way of self-expression. Tom explained how modern day graffiti was more of an art form whereas Pompeii graffiti shared slogans and he did not want to mix them together. I can see where Tom is coming from however I believe modern day graffiti be it art or slogans will always be a way for the artist to express themselves.

Once I finished reading the book, I made a final list of questions to ask Tom. This was my second interview I’ve ever conducted on camera and this time I was on my own.

So after a quick crash course on how to setup and use a professional camera and mic, I headed off to The Economist Plaza in central London to meet Tom. In the video included in this post, Tom gave me time to explain any doubts and questions I had, and provided realistic and honest answers.


I would like this opportunity to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Writing on the wall’ by Tom Standage. I would definitely recommend people interested in social media to take time in reading through some of the events that took place in history, which were influenced by media platforms.  I would also like to thank Tom Standage in agreeing to a face-to-face interview and to participate in the production of my video.

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