Were the Romans the first to use social media?

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Were the Romans the first to use social media?

Post by JCB »

Social media is a funny thing, it panders to the dark side of human nature. Case in point, the Roman Empire. An amazing civilization, the Romans kept worldwide order for more than 500 years. Granted they did this through military might, but nonetheless, they did.
The Romans were also (and you can thank my schoolteachers for this little nugget) masters of assimilation (technology theft?) Yes, for all you Star Trek fans out there, the Romans were the very first Borg. Roads, aqueducts, viaducts ... some other culture, I think it was the Greeks ... But I digress.

Ironically, a few thousand years later we are assimilating aspects of Roman culture back into our modern-day lives. In truth, we've been doing this all along. But for dramatic effect, my story seems more relevant if I cherry-pick a few elements, in this case, reality television.

But back to ancient Rome, and a typical Saturday afternoon. The average bricklayer (after slaving - pun intended - all week long) would enjoy nothing less than a family outing to the local amphitheatre.

A quick segue, it is my understanding Romans knew the value of crowd control. Instead of letting repressed emotions fester, they allowed them to be channelled in positive ways–namely the amphitheatre and the games.


So where does social media fit into this story? I suggest to you it fits in with the simplest of human gestures: a thumb up, or a thumb down. The peasantry of the day could engage with every other man, woman and child and affect the course of the game's action with nothing more than a simple wave of their hand (or their thumb.)

This thumbs-up gesture should seem very familiar to you. It is commonplace to see this little icon on social media sites where “social voting” is all part of the process. Click the thumbs up button and your vote supports some cause or website. Conversely, a thumb down and you vote against it. Of course today no one lives or dies by your act... but back then... a whole other story.

It strikes me as funny that such a simple gesture has survived the test of time and now finds itself commonplace amongst the desktops and user interfaces of the leading technology platforms.

And to those purists amongst us, I do understand technically the Romans didn't do a thumb down gesture it was more thumbs sideways manoeuvre. But this again does not look as good and could be misinterpreted.

Ironic isn't it, a fragment of a bygone culture should still exist today in such a simple act. And don't get me started about why train tracks are as wide as they are, rumour has it they are such because this was the width of the traditional chariot of the day!

So the next time you push the thumbs up button or the thumbs down button I hope you smile and remember the Romans :-)
- JCB -
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