One of the most basic forms of sending and receiving messages between two people was in the form of written letters. “According to the testimony of ancient historian Hellanicus, the first recorded handwritten letter was written by Persian Queen Atossa, around 500 BC” (Tomshinsky, 2013, p. 112). From Tomshisky’s article, it is possible to say that written letters started in Persia, and since then this simple form of sending messages has greatly evolved. We now have two-way messages in the form of tweets and DM’s on social media, which are not only for the purpose of communicating with people, but also for informing and making people aware of social issues. According to Tomshinsky (2013), letters were used primarily for communicating short messages and notes, whether it be for business, personal use, or for royal individuals to use.
Moreover, pigeons were one of the first animals used to “deliver” these letters because of their good sense of direction, and this system soon came to be known as the pigeon post (Conrad, 2013). There was a shift from horses and other animals as the means of diffusion of these letters to humans in the form of a ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1516, in the United Kingdom (Tomshinsky, 2013, p. 114). This general idea of a specific individual delivering letters to the receivers eventually led to what we now know as “postmen”.
This idea of short messages proceeded to contribute to “Instant messages” or IM’s which were created in 1996 by 4 Israeli users. IM’s were a way of sending short notes to people through the internet using the technology ICQ (Stewart, 2001). With these IM’s, an individual had the ability to connect with people throughout the world via MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. As of 2006, a full social media platform was dedicated to sending and receiving 140-character messages from people: Twitter.
In a span of 5 years from 2006 to 2011, it is evident that Twitter has changed starting with its name from “twttr” to “twitter”. (Siegler, 2011). This just shows how fast media can change within 5 years — What happens when the time gap has been more than 2,000 years for a communicative tool like letters? Well, the function, form, and use of letters can drastically change as seen in 2018. First of all, the most common way of sending and receiving messages is through Twitter and the message can only be 140 characters limiting individuals to succinct messages. Second of all, these messages are now used as a source of information, rants, or for promoting awareness about social issues. For example, we can say how the use of Twitter for communicating messages has evolved to using hashtags for social movements like #JeSuisCharlie, #HeForShe, and #Covfefe. From basic communication via pigeons to pressing a button (Tweet) to share you short message with the world, letters have definitely been revolutionized to make way for a better and more efficient way of sending and receiving messages.
From Hauben’s perspective, there are definitely some aspects of Twitter he would like such as the emphasis on personal communication between both individual people (Hauben, 1991). Hauben was an internet theorist who stated that the purpose of the Net was as a vehicle for distribution of people’s thoughts. From him article, we can deduce that he would not mind letters, however he would reject Twitter’s more commercialized uses like companies shamelessly promoting their products online and
the marketing of other services. Hauben would applaud the start of viral hashtag movements if they were socially important. We see this in his article (Hauben, 1991) “This is people contributing to other people to make a difference in people’s lives. The Net allows the average person to have their voice heard.” Moreover, I think Hauben would appreciate the idea of the revolutionary forms of media in the form of social media and virtual reality because of its emphasis on personal communication, but he wouldn’t completely advocate it because of how commercialized emerging media is today. For me personally, this online-mobile-social media revolution dictates a world where everything is at the touch of your fingers — to unlock your phone, to scroll through your newsfeed, to take pictures, and to share visual content globally. With all the new technology related to media, there is also virtual reality and wearable network devices. Wearable network devices from the basic wrist watch to an Apple Watch to the Fitbit are becoming integrated into everyday life and will augment human intelligence (Billinghurst & Starner, 1999).
It is clear to see that technology has definitely evolved from handwritten letters to mediated short messages and that emerging media is going to be a big part of our lives, so much so that we could possibly use the current popular social media platform. According to TechCrunch, “Snapchat’s daily user count grew just 2.13% in Q1 of 2018, Facebook’s monthly count grew by 3.14%, and Instagram is growing close to 5% per quarter.” From these statistics, can we then say that we are currently in the Instagram era? Another question to consider is: Is the era of social media the result of a letter written in 500 BC?
Billinghurst, M., & Starner, T. (1999). Wearable devices: New ways to manage information. Computer, 32(1), 57-64
Conrad, H. (2013, July 18). From Pigeons to Email: How Sending Letters and Packages Evolved. Retrieved from https://www.zmescience.com/tech/from-pigeons-to-email-how-sending-letters-and-packages-evolved/
Siegler, M. (2011, March 13). 5 Years Later, Jack Dorsey Tweets About Twitter’s Beginning. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2011/03/13/twitters-beginning/
Stewart, Q. (2001, June 9). History of Instant Messaging. Retrieved from https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~lis312qs/restrict/im/im1.html
Tomshinsky, I. (2013). The Art of Writing Handwriting Letters and Notes. International Journal of Business, Humanities, and Technology, 3 (8), 109-116.