I tried to imagine – who hasn’t? – how I could explain social networks to my ancestors if one of them miraculously came back to life. The verdict: the general store and church square were the social media of our forefathers.
Imagine having to explain to your ancestors, for whom the telephone was THE big invention of the century, that it’s now possible to speak to people from all over the world. That it’s possible to be friends with people you’ve never met face to face. That you can follow someone without actually being behind him or her. That you can subscribe not to a newspaper but to a human being.
“Grandma, Grandpa, social media isn’t complicated! It’s just a big general store,” I say out loud to my hypothetical ancestors.
At the beginning of the century, several factors lured people to the general store, especially in small villages, because it represented the archetypal center of financial and social exchanges for the community. “And, Grandma, we use the word ‘community’ all the time in social networks!”
In 1941, exactly 2943 general stores (in Quebec only) had various tasks similar to those of social networks today. People would come to sell, others to buy. Some would go to tell stories, others to get the gossip. Those who heard the “news” could keep the secret or tell others… I think you get my drift.
The church: a notable ancestor of social networks
In the past, one would gossip in front of the church while wearing our most elegant attire and show off our betrothed. Today, we do this through social networks.
In the past, we would sing in a chorus. Audience guaranteed. We would flock to the church with the same enthusiasm as if we were going to see Madonna in Quebec City. Nowadays, we sing in front of a camera and post it on MySpace or Facebook, the conventional windows of “me, myself and I,” although both B2B and B2C companies are making homes there for themselves, especially on Facebook.
As time goes by, networks multiply, often with the idea of centralising a restrained number of functions. But these functions have remained the same while the methods have evolved.
“At the end of the day, Grandpa, you would have really liked those social networks… It’s what everyone’s talking about!”