Writing on the Wall

October 23, 2013 History, non-fiction 14

17287025Title: Writing on the Wall
Author: Tom Standage
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★★
Fun Fact: Facebook alone accounts for one in seven minutes spent online world wide.
Review Summary: This book did an exceptional job bringing historical eras to life while giving insight into our own use of social media and sharing many fun facts.

Writing on the Wall is about all of the ingenious and fascinating ways that information has been transmitted over the centuries. The author is able to draw surprising parallels between ancient media and the social media of today. These comparisons inform discussions of issues still relevant today, such as the question of whether communication at a distance makes us feel more or less connected to other people, and raises the question of how we’ll choose to use social media in the future.

Writing on the Wall is very well organized, moving forward chronologically with each chapter devoted to an era dominated by a particular form of communication. These focused chapters allowed the author to share a ton of fascinating details about each era. For those of us who love fun facts, this is perfect. In addition to being enjoyable for their own sake, these little details really brought each era to life for me. For instance, did you know that lower class Romans often communicated via graffiti? And, thanks to the preservation of Pompeii, the author is able to actually share bits of that graffiti! I was amazed at how similar that graffiti was to things people might write today. For me, that feeling of “wow, they were just like us” is one of the best ways to bring history to life.

The title of that chapter on graffiti in Pompeii? “Gnaeus Alleius Wrote on Your Wall.” Although these silly, fun, explicit comparisons to social media of today could have been too much, I enjoyed them a lot. They each made me smile and enhanced that feeling of being connected to the past. However, more even than just being enjoyable and amusing, these comparisons to the past gave the author a way to talk about issues raised by social media that are still relevant today. I particularly enjoyed the direct quotes from luminaries such as Thomas Paine and Cicero on social media in their time. This combination of fun facts and insightful ideas made for an interesting and thought provoking read.

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14 Responses to “Writing on the Wall”

    • DoingDewey

      Isn’t that crazy! I can’t find the exact figure now, but there was also a statistic about the number of years people spend on facebook each month collectively which was pretty scary too. It really was an interesting book 🙂

  1. Catherine

    I’m definitely part of that Facebook fact- that or twitter are terrible time sucks. This sounds like an interesting book- adding it to my TBR list!

  2. Juliana -- Epilogues

    Ditto, I can’t believe that fun fact about Facebook. Although I guess I’m not as surprised as I should be. Sounds like a great read, though! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It was a great read 🙂 I love both non-fiction with a lot of fun facts and non-fiction that helps bring the past to life, so this was a really good fit for me. And I was absolutely blown away by the stats he shared about facebook!

    • DoingDewey

      Definitely! I thought it was very engaging and the author does talk a lot about the way social media helped shape society throughout history.

    • DoingDewey

      It was so fascinating! The way people in ancient Rome got news to each other through friends of friends was so impressive and so daunting compared to the ease with which we communicate today. The similarities were interesting too, from the things people wanted to tell each other to people’s concerns about each new form of communication. I really geeked out about this one 🙂

  3. Leah

    This sounds like a really fun book! I majored in Communication Studies in college, and I would have LOVED to have this book as a textbook. Hell, I’d love to read it now!