Back To The Future

I’ve been reading Kurt Andersen’s Heyday on this trip to Greece. It’s about life in the US in the middle of the 19th Century (the heyday of the US?). There’s this scene early in the book where one of the main characters, Skaggs, who lives in NYC sends a friend a telegram letting him know that John Jacob Astor, the hated landlord of NYC, had finally died. His friend sends him a telegraph back letting him know that Niagra Falls had just frozen over and was no longer a waterfall. Skaggs runs uptown to the newspapers and tries to sell the news but nobody believes him until the news arrives via official channels the next day.

As I was reading that part of the book, I got a twitter message on my phone from Dave Winer that Barry Bonds had just tied Hank Aaron’s record with a blast in San Diego.

The irony was not lost on me. Both telegrams and twitter messages are short messaging systems. Twitter by design. Telegraph because the cost of sending a message was so high. But a lot can be conveyed in a short burst of text. Clearly we’ve been getting our news forever from a mix of personal and official news channels. I think with the advent of mobile broadcast messaging systems like Twitter, we’ll be getting more, not less, of our news from "citizen journalists".

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