What’s All This About Social Media?

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We Electronic Design editors are now bloggers as well as editors.  I’m okay with that as most of us technologists (I prefer the term “geeks.”) have been using electronic media for “social networking” since the first telegraph wires were strung.

It was one of us geeks, in fact, who coined the term “Weblog.”  That was Jorn Barger, whom I became aware of from a Usenet social network, the rec.arts.books newsgroup.  (Wikipedia tell us that it was Peter Merholz who applied thrasher-speak to shorten Jorn’s term to “blog.”)  Jorn is arguably the leading non-academic expert on James Joyce, among other topics.  There’s an interesting Wikipedia page on him, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorn_Barger.

I bring up Usenet because it’s one of the earliest social media to use the Internet. (Credit to Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis for UUCP and the concept and reality of a multi-server bulletin-board (BBS) system (with a nod to Tom Jennings’ FIDONET).

I got involved with Usenet when my wife, who had work access to a Unix server, and hence to the Internet, told me about a spirited discussion of the literary critic Northrop Frye on rec.arts.books. (I think I must have once attempted to explain Frye’s archetypal criticism to her while we were dating.) I say “spirited discussion,” since it was passionate and used certain anatomical references, but it was at the same time courteous and respectful.  Over time, I found a lot of good, insightful, and edifying discussions on Usenet on all kinds of topics.

Unfortunately, the democratization of the Internet took a heavy toll on the unmoderated Usenet newsgroups. As more people gained access to Usenet, civility and respect  (and subject knowledge) were overwhelmed by infantile jerks. (Maybe I’m showing my age here.)

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Don Tuite

Don Tuite covers Analog and Power issues for Electronic Design’s magazine and website. He has a BSEE and an M.S in Technical Communication, and has worked for companies in aerospace,...
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