When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-2000, on a specific aspect of society (e.g. education, politics, creative industries, science, entertainment, social relationships).
“I got your love letters, corrected the grammar and sent them back.”
– Fall Out Boy: ‘The Music or the Misery’
Ong (1982) says that artificiality is natural to human beings. Anyone who has a Facebook account has seen this firsthand and likely to some extent exercised avowal of desirable attributes themselves. Whether partaking, laughing at your friends’ displays or sharing a screenshot loaded with an embarrassingly high frequency of ‘less than three’ shorthand, you’ve probably come across passionate expressions of devotion on Facebook. I would be willing to wager that whatever instance you’ve seen such an example in, it didn’t hold a candle to this:
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours – Amor mio – is comprised my existence here and hereafter. I feel I exist here, and I feel I shall exist hereafter, – to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you. But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, – but they never will, unless you wish it. – Lord George Gordon Byron.
Then there are ‘kids these days’ being mind-numblingly romantic…
Before delving into how or why this diminution of language has occurred, some introductions are in order. In this final entry I’ll be exploring, investigating and comparing the impact of pre-1900s love letters and post-2000 social media, particularly Facebook, on romance. Aside from the obvious degradation of grammar, what implications have the publication technologies had on romance as a societal aspect? Is romance truly dead or has it evolved (or perhaps devolved…) into an ultra-modern, tech-savvy, multi-platofrm concept? To what extent is social media responsible?
The origin of the love letter is difficult to pinpoint as they are believed to date back as old as written language itself, as that is really the only crucial element require a love ‘letter’. Circa AD100, Pliny the Younger wrote to his wife Calpurnia in Rome (The Independent, 14/02/2011). Similar examples in Egypt and around the world can be found over centuries, especially throughout the Renaissance. However it was not until the 18th century that “love letters became much more personal and pure,” showing “tenderness, charm and even humour,” according to Laura Boyle, the host of JaneAusten.co.uk. Throughout history, love letters have played an integral part in courtship. The traditional paper-form love letter, while largely out-dated with modern technology, served as a central means of communication pre-1900, when the alternative was limited to face-to-face conversation. Suitors would send each other love letters leading up to marriage as well as during separation.
Onwards to more familiar and menial territory: Facebook. In February of 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched ‘The Facebook’, a network allowing Harvard University students to view each others’ profiles and rate their attractiveness. It officially became Facebook.com in August of 2005. Gradually expanding internationally, by September of 2006 anyone with an email address over the age of 13 could create a profile. I won’t bore my audience with generalised descriptions of the website as you most likely know how it works. If you have recently joined us from some detached, remote tribe in the Amazon, kudos to you for being able to read English and I advise that you Google it. If you don’t know what Google is, I can’t help you.
The implications that Facebook has had are extensive. It ties in with Jacques Derrida’s concept of archive fever (1997). That is to say, the millions of micro-publishing snippets posted and shared by users every day are aggregated, archived and also destroyed online, in a way which is unique to Facebook. The modern obsession with telling your hundreds of ‘friends’ (often better suited to the title of acquaintance) is the main market of the social network. However the innate human desire to connect with others (Dewey 1922) is as old as human records themselves, which poses the question as to the extent which Facebook and social networks can be held responsible for high-volume micro-publishing. McLuhan and Fiore simplifies this phenomenon in the following quote:
“In the name of progress our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old.” – McLuhan & Fiore (1967)
Though it could be argued that modern social networking and micro-publishing can act as a form of technological love letter, this post is focussing on the love letter in a pre-1900s context. These letters were generally much longer than the messages people today are accustomed to sending and receiving on a daily basis. Sending a love letter required much more effort than sending someone a message on Facebook does. There was the cost of the materials involved, such as the paper, ink, quill, envelope and postage fees. It also required the labour involved in physically transporting and delivering the letter and without modern transportation took much longer than the postal service available today.
What this meant for romance was that the sender was much less likely to send a short, poorly thought-out message to the recipient. More thought and careful consideration was involved. Imagine that you’ve returned to your remote Amazonian tribe, but you want to send a friend back here in Sydney a message. Without a local post office or access to the internet or telephones, you may need to drive several hours just to send a letter. Now imagine that you don’t have a car. The message you send isn’t going to just be asking how your friend is. You’re going to fit as much as possible into that letter because it won’t get to your friend for days if not weeks and a reply will take even longer. This, I believe, is the foundation of the effects on romance of love letters and why Facebook and social media has such a different effect in comparison. Today alone I’ve sent over 20 Facebook messages and communicated in various other ways using the network, though if I had to condense them into one message much more thought would go into it, similar to the fact that I am taking a long time to submit this post rather than submitting many small ones quickly.
The stalking capabilities of Facebook are certainly an area to consider when investigating the effects of the social network on romance. I actually met a previous partner because we had a mutual ‘Facebook friend’ and as a result the site recommended him as a potential friend. I then proceeded to go through his public photos and convinced our mutual friend to ask him to “add me”. This isn’t exactly the romantic first encounter that Shakespeare or Jane Austen wrote about. “I saw him from across the crowded Facebook page”. When I met him in person, the only real mystery was what his voice sounded like. You can discover just about everything about someone without actually meeting them face to face. I know what you’re thinking – romantic, right?! It was basically the mysterious, hormone-fuelled love affair of Romeo and Juliet. Just… without most of the killing and controversy.
I can’t shake the feeling though that Facebook isn’t entirely to blame. Text messaging creates a very similar platform, especially if like myself you have a plan allowing unlimited SMS. I send just as many text messages each day, if not more, as Facebook interactions. With modern technology enabling relatively effortless communication, surely without social networks we would find another way? French thinker Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (2005) and Manuel DeLanda’s realisation of this as a ‘flat ontology’ (2007) would argue that every element of the any assemblage has equal agency. By this understanding, the computer or smartphone through which you access Facebook is just as important to the assemblage and its effectiveness in communication as Facebook itself or anything else, human or non-human. In which case it probably isn’t really poor Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. I’m sure with his original design allowing women at his University to be compared and rated based on attractiveness that he’s quite the romantic.
Here is something positive: this guy decided that proposing to his girlfriend over the phone was too boring and unromantic, so he used an app to map out his run into the words ‘Marry Me’ and sent it to her. It’s pretty romantic, I mean, he went for a run, that’s commitment.
To conclude, romance, in the traditional sense, flourished not so much as a result of love letters, but alongside them, as neither can be established as coming before the other. Even before written language, love letters could have been presented in drawing or hieroglyphic form. Nothing has been firmly established by this entry, really, because despite the use of Facebook as an outlet for the diminution of romance in its traditional written form, it can’t really be held directly responsible. The evolution of technology would likely be an inevitable influencer of the performance of romance communication with or without Facebook and social media. Of course, romance extends well beyond written communication, however that is far too broad of a topic to analyse in this format.
As a parting gift, below is a picture of a World of Warcraft in-game wedding. Yes, that is a thing apparently. I could probably write another 1800 words about the implications of online gaming on romance. In character and in real life, outside of the game.
References (all electronic accessed 13/6/13)
Bourne, J (2013) How To Write Love Letters, http://www.flickr.com/photos/66992990@N00/6715398311/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Boyle, L (2011) A History of Love Letters, http://www.janeausten.co.uk/a-history-of-love-letters
McLuhan, Marshall (1962) The Gutenberg galaxy:the making of typographic man, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
Dewey, J (1922) Human nature and conduct: An introduction to social psychology, Carlton House
Famous Love Letters (2013) Lord George Gordon Byron, http://valentine.dgreetings.com/love- letters/famous.html
Lamebook (2011) Ex Box, http://www.lamebook.com/ex-box/
Latour, B (2005) Reassembling the Social-An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press, p. 316
McLuhan, M and Fiore, Q (1967) The Medium is the Massage, New York: Bantam Books, pp.
Ong, Walter J (1982) Orality and literacy: the Technologising of the word, London and New York: Methuen
Phillips, S. (The Guardian, 25 July 2007) A Brief History of Facebook, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/jul/25/media.newmedia
Plyrics (2013) Fall Out Boy Lyrics: The Music Or The Misery, http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/falloutboy/themusicorthemisery.html
Shaviro, Steven (2007) ‘DeLanda: A New Philosophy of Society’, The Pinocchio Theory, http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=541
Smith, Emilie (2009) Melting Wax, http://www.flickr.com/photos/39618060@N03/3643276322/
Walsh, J (The Independent, February 14, 2011) Have We Lost the Art of Writing Love Letters, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/have-we-lost-the-art-of- writing-love-letters-2213865.html
‘YumeKimino’ (2007) World of Warcraft’s Lovehttp://yumekimino.deviantart.com/art/World-of- Warcraft-s-Love-54121821