My first and most burning question brought forth due to Standage’s text is to what extent did caffeine addictions drive the development of the coffeehouse as a social hotbed? And even more important than that, would the coffeehouse have existed if there were other accessible supplies of caffeine?
The importance of Standage’s 6th and 11th chapters comes as they present themselves to a modernized audience who has clear understandings of what they believe “social media” is and how it relates to the internet they know and understand.
Some people don’t have a respect for history and socio-technological development, and those people are not going to understand why their beloved Facebook and Twitter aren’t as revolutionary as they may seem.
To investigate this, I shall forego an in-depth analysis of both chapters in order to synthesis information derived from both, in order to explore Standage’s point.
Both chapters seem to discuss to the expansion of “social media” in some form. This consists of some sort of system of convention that has aided in communication and the dissemination of knowledge to the world. The coffeehouse, ARPANET, Facebook and the like were merely means of aiding in communication, which had been done by humans for as long as the species had existed.
What they did do is change who could speak with whom and how much like printing had done during the time of Martin Luther. The coffeehouse became a space for free and uninterrupted transmission of ideas by those who were involved within whatever social or academic circle happened to be there at the time. Its presence was important, and coffeehouse discussions created fire-pits of knowledge, intrigue and information that could not transmit itself near quickly enough in the 17th century to be as impacting as it was.
The point to be made, however, is that the coffeehouse in and of itself was not a tool or a means for the development of social media or communication; it was a happy victim of circumstance. The coffeehouses created accessible environments by being comfortable enough and by providing a product that could increase the rapidity of mental processes. This placed it squarely against the tavern or the pub, which did quite the opposite. The environment in and of itself was highly suitable for any to come and speak their mind, be they fool or genius.
And that interesting parallel leads us to chapter 11, in which we see how major developments in internet technologies had been spurred by the need to communicate. This communication, however, was between very specific groups of academics; it was the entire reason that the www. that people of the digital age known so well exists.
What Standage brings forth in both chapters 6 and 11 goes somewhat beyond his primary point. With both the coffeehouse, and developments such as the internet, there is a visible tension between belief in knowledge control- dictation of knowledge rather than democratization. Though the coffeehouse may have been free and open, one still had to prove themselves credible. More so than that, a space that could potentially provide knowledge- and criticism of the norm- proved dangerous as the English crown had first anticipated.
The tension that exists in the internet today is even more palpable. There are both attempts to credit and discredit information that may not objectively deserve such treatment, and attempts to outrightly control how information spreads. Actions such as these actively undermine the beneficial roles of such a tool as the internet.
What we can see with Standage goes beyond a history lesson, beyond a display of human progress. His piece illustrates one key thing that has echoed through all the chapters I’ve been exposed to. Technologically, human advancement in the fields of communication has progressed remarkably over the past several centuries. However, many facets of communications: the ethics, the credibility, the manipulation of truth, have remained as constants within iterations.
The next, more interesting discussion is how these constants should be changed, if change is necessary- or possible- at all.