Cu penița pe hârtie

Can the art of letter writing survive? by Andrew Hill

Electronic communications may be new but the conversations facilitated by email, Twitter and Facebook updates and instant messaging are not. Letters used to be exchanged with the regularity of email, with messages sometimes sent and received many times daily. In 1910, each person in Britain sent on average an extraordinary 116.7 items of mail. What we think of as a 21st-century phenomenon – social media – is rather “a return to the way things used to be”, claims Tom Standage in Writing on the Wall. His book starts roughly at the same place as To the Letter, with Cicero’s abundant correspondence from the 1st century BC, and ends similarly, with the birth and growth of the internet and email. But where Simon Garfield takes the branch of literary development that leads to personal letters – intimate, mostly bilateral communications between individuals – Standage pursues the road that leads to public declarations: Paul’s epistles, pamphlets from John Milton to Thomas Paine, and letters intended for publication and distribution. In his account, Cicero’s letters survived because they were copied and passed on to others. “Cicero and his web of contemporaries became so used to exchanging information by letter, with messengers coming and going throughout the day, that they considered it an extension of spoken conversation,” Standage writes.
The parallels with modern social media are clear. “How Luther Went Viral” is the title of the chapter about how Martin Luther’s 95 theses were circulated, at a time when the number of editions of pamphlets was the equivalent to “the number of Likes, retweets, reblogs, +1s, or page views” a piece of content generates online today. The social networks of the past, such as the coffee-houses of London in the 18th century, had their critics, who condemned them in strikingly similar terms to those used by 21st-century sceptics, for “distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work”. Standage makes a strong case that the 150 years or so when mass media – from newspapers to television – centralised opinion and news and peddled it to passive readers and viewers were an aberration in the long historical domination of social media. He offers hope for the letter as a form of writing – though it is not his theme – because he makes clear that people’s instinct to share, discuss, and transmit their deepest, most strongly held feelings survives and adapts, even as technology changes.
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Despre Claudiu Degeratu
Expert in securitate nationala, internationala, NATO, UE, aparare si studii strategice

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