Two millenias of social NOTworking

In every historical era, people are proud of the uniqueness of their accomplishments - especially technological ones. Our socio-technological cutting edge is the internet and social networks. But are they really that unprecedented in human history?

The book "Writing on the Wall: Social Media: The First 2000 Years", which came out last month, offers some very interesting insights. Starting with the Romans, the book shows how even our historical forebears kept up lively correspondences with each other, always with a scribe at hand. For example, Cicero encouraged his friends, "Whether you have any news or not, write something,” - just keep me posted :)  Romans copied and forwarded letters (retweeted) and even used acronyms like SPD, which stood for salutem plurimam dicit, or “sends many greetings.”

A great example of the use of new social media for viral marketing is Luther's posting of 95 theses on a wall (actually a church's door) in Wittenburg :) The message went viral in the new media of the time - the printing press - and millions of pamphlets flooded Europe in a decade 1517-1527.

The Catholic Church refused to print its own pamphlets, they stuck with the old-fashioned media of their choice - preaching. Ooops what a missed opportunity and a loss "in market share". They tried to catch up, running a great marketing campaign called "Baroque" later on, but that's a completely different story. ;)

The book by Tom Standage (technology editor of the Economist) is full of similar examples. It makes a reader think and reflect on the present through a historical perspective, not just in terms of the target for this fiscal year.

The "new" social media and collaboration platforms are often labelled with the "social NOTworking" term in the workplace. I have even seen them banned completely. My point is that the new tools for sharing & collaboration just embody our natural way of communicating and lowers the transactional cost of providing or consuming information. Not accepting new tools or even avoiding them might result in a significant loss of competitive edge to any enterprise.

The very last thought: you've probably already heard of the term "millennials" - kids born in the 80's/90's who are entering the workforce these days. The only place they search for an answer is on Google, their only source of trivia is Wikipedia and the only way they organise their lives is via a social network. Many of them don't even use email - so 20th century... Are you ready to provide them with the tools that let them work effectively in your enterprise?