How the Regency Invented Twitter

Chappe_semaphoreAndrea here, thinking about communication. Now, all of you are reading this on some sort of electronic device, and no matter where you are in the world, the bytes somehow transport themselves pretty much instantaneously for your reading edification. When you think on it, it’s pretty mind-boggling the amount of information we can access with the press of an electronic key.

More than that, it’s the split-second ability to communicate with each other that has fundamentally changed (for better and for worse) the way we live and think—the rhythms of life, the expectations, the constant need to react and process. And it’s happened SO fast. I remember the the era of no internet, no cellphones . . . and wrestling with whether to spring for the cost of a long-distance telephone call to talk to a faraway pal.

1024px-Signaling_by_Napoleonic_semaphore_lineI hate to admit it, but most of us (me included) probably panic when we find that we’ve forgotten to put our cellphone in our purse or pocket when we run out to do an errand. The idea of being “out of the loop”, even for a short while, is disorienting. Our brains seem to have been rewired by the new technology . . .

This is a roundabout intro to what spurred the topic in the first place. I was doing some general Regency research for an idea for one of my future Wrexford & Sloane mysteries the other day when I came across an interesting article on the invention of semaphores—or, as many called the system back then, the visual or optical telegraph—which was really the first, albeit primitive, step in the high-speed communication revolution.

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The Address Book’s Tale

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

At midnight Thursday, I pressed the “Send” key to shoot my fourth Lost Lords book, No Longer a Gentleman, off to New York, so my brain is still rather fried.  Hence, my post today is a (very) modest meditation on address books.

Humankind is a social species.  Even dedicated introverts like writers usually want some people around at least some of the time.  As I think about this, a history of communications is a history of the human race. 

In earlier days, when most people could be born, live, and die within a small community, there wouldn’t have been much need for address books since you pretty much knew everyone and their whereabouts already. 

If you were part of a clan of cave dwellers and you wanted to chat with your pal Ugga-Mugga, you’d just call “Ugga!” across the cave.  If you were a 19th century farmer, you knew your cousin Bob lived up the Pike Road ‘cross from the Hales. 

Antique_telephone 1 Widening the social circles

As I started writing this post, it occurred to me that social circles probably widened dramatically with the invention of the telephone. Address books become common about the same time, since phone numbers were another piece of data that needed to be recorded and the more the data, the harder it is to remember it all without assistance.

Methods of communication have been exploding ever since.  These days, a person might list telephone/s, e-mail address, Facebook listing, Twitter handle, etc, etc.

The humble hardcopy address book

It was a humble hardcopy address book that got me to thinking about the genus.  I have a very old, very small address book that probably dates back to immediately post college days.  It has a sewn binding, which suggests that it was intended to be kept and used indefinitely.  It still sits in a corner of my kitchen and contains penciled phone numbers for people I might be inspired to call from my kitchen. 

One thing I learned from that address book was do not write addresses in ink in a permanent address book.  <G>  People, especially young, post college age friends, move a lot.

E-Z Record address book But what really got me thinking was replacement for my fattest, most useful address book, which stems from when I was working as a freelance designer.  These days, most address books have ring binders so pages and can be added and removed, unlike my old sewn address book.

But data still changes, and whole pages can get messy quickly.  So my master address book is the one recommended by a friend of mine many years ago.  It’s a ring binder style with small slips large enough for one entry of name, address, phone numbers and a bit of room for notes like names of husbands and kids, or where one knows the person from.  They were layered in the address book so you could see 7 or 8 at a time.

As my friend said breezily, she was an Aquarian and liked that she could easily add or subtract people.  (And then she bought a new car to drive cross country, stopped in Santa Fe and never left, and has been doing interesting things like professional astrology ever since.  But that’s another story. <G>)

I, however, am not a breezy Aquarian. I am the ‘hang onto things forever because you never know when they might be useful” sort.  After years of this, my address book was on the vergeExploding book  of exploding.  The plastic cover was cracking, and I couldn’t take out old address slips because slips would spill out if I opened the ring binder.  So I put Post-It notes over existing pages. 

The book was a mess, and I didn’t have any luck finding the same kind of address book with individual slips since old fashioned hardcopy address books are a diminishing market. 

Then I got the genius idea (duh!) of Googling, and I found what I wanted right off.  In fact, the E-Z Record company, manufacturer of the sensibly named “Lifetime Address Book” is in Maryland less than an hour away.  I promptly ordered a larger version of what I had, with lots of extra address slips.

Excavation It really got interesting when it came time to transfer needed contact information from the old book to the new.  The address book was like excavating Mediterranean ruins down through the layers of my life.  Lots of business contacts from my designer years for printers and typesetters and silk screeners and sign makers and other designy things.  Restaurants, some of them long vanished. 

Lots of addresses for friends and acquaintances, too.  Some are people who have disappeared from my life. Some, sadly, have died, and even a packrat like me can't think of a good reason to keep the contact information. 

The new connections

And some are people that I don’t need to keep in paper form because my Yahoo logo relationship with them is internet based.  The addresses in my spiffy new address book tend to be personal friends, relatives, and local businesses or doctors or people I might call when I’m not at the computer.  So the address book isn’t likely to explode any year soon.

 

Instead, we have the social networks, the yahoo groups, the address books maintained by our e-mail servers.  Our networks have grown larger while the relationships in the outer circles are far more tenuous.  It’s “Reach out and touch Linkedin logo someone” on steroids.

But the urge to connect is still here, still part of human nature.  How are you connecting with people these days?  Do you still have print address books?  Are all your contacts on your smart phone?  (I have a stupid phone myself. <g>)

Princess phone What ways to you use to stay connected?  And do you remember simpler days with 
fondness or disdain? 

Mary Jo, adding that No Longer a Gentleman will be out from Kensington next May.