Book Review: Writing On the Wall (Social Media – the First 2000 Years)

It really is true: there’s nothing new here. Not with Twitter. Not with Facebook. Not with blogging. Not with any of the social media that we keep saying has “upended” traditional media. In this fascinating look at social media over the past 2,000 years, Tom Standage digs deep into our historical roots to show how the flow of information along social lines has been one constant thread through various phases of civilization.

Writing On the Wall is a fascinating read (and I heard about it from a book review column a friend of mine does at the Boston Globe, where her focus was books about social networking), starting off with Cicero in Rome, asking friends and allies to make sure they sent news of politics and government via notes, complete with comments, delivered by friends, and then moves into the use of pamphlets and scrolls and the printing press and more communication systems from the past that eerily echo the present.

In fact, Standage argues that the media empires that are now starting to fade (ie, newspapers) are the anomaly of history — in that the power to curate information and spread it out fell into the hands of a relative few (ie, publishers and editors and reporters) — and that if you look before and after that blip in time, you can see how prevalent the impact of widespread information is by “the people.”

And all of the same arguments back when Plato was railing against written text (as inferior to oral tradition), and when the Church was railing against Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement, and when the elites in the Arab world were worried about coffeehouse gatherings, and when the King of England was railing against Thomas Paine, and … well, it goes on and on, this railing against the power to publish being put into “the wrong hands” and what information might do to us. Sure, some of what gets published in any space is lies, distortions and more, but when the flow if open and moving, a reader has a better chance of judging veracity and weighing the impact of information, and good will prevail.


Standage writes:

“…social media is not going away. It has been around for centuries. Today, blogs are the new pamphets. Microblogs and online social networks are the new coffeehouses. Media sharing sites are the new commonplace books. They are all shared, social platforms that enable ideas to travel from one person to another, rippling through networks of people connected by social bonds, rather than having to squeeze through the privileged bottleneck of broadcast media. The rebirth of social media in the Internet age represents a profound shift — and a return, in many respects, to the way things used to be.” (page 250)

Peace (on the wall),

PS — here is a talk that Standage gave to Google about social media:



Wonder Poem: … and a canal between us …

Today’s topic for the Wonders of the World poem is the Panama Canal. I had this vision of lovers on either sides of a lock. I sort of went into an ee cummings mode here.

… and a canal between us …

you, there;
me, here;
waiting, wondering when the water
will rise up to reach us

i stand, forlorn,
knowing that perfect equilibrium
is hard to find
particularly when everyday is a day under

you seem more serene
having more faith
in the ways of the world that I do
or perhaps some knowledge of past history
of lovers divided by a cause

and when we are in this place

where even a kiss becomes political
where there is always the threat of invading armies
where the influence of market forces
has us on edge

i still find ways to float you notes
in little paper boats
that rise and fall with the release of water
knowing that somehow my poems
will make their way into your heart
and into our home

You can view the poem in a prettier form at Notegraphy, too.

And a podcast. It felt right that I needed voice to this one. Do you agree?

Record and upload audio >>

Peace (amid the waters),



Wonder Flowchart Poem: Delta Works

The Delta Works sounds like a band out of Memphis, doesn’t it? But it’s really a complex engineering system to hold back the ocean in the Netherlands, and as I read about for this morning’s Wonder of the World (with Mary Lee), I had this vision of a shape poem in my head. I had shared Coggle out with some folks last week, and so I decided to dive back into the mindmapping site and create a flowchart poem of the Delta Works.

You can “read” the poem as static image here:
Delta Works_A Flow Chart Poem(1)

Or you can play around with the embedded flowchart from Coggle:

Peace (in the flow),

Spotlight on Grant Snider: Poetry Comic Posters

I wish I had a ton of money so I could buy up every poster about writing that artist Grant Snider creates. Alas, I am a teacher, not a banker. But I urge you to go to his site – Incidental Comics — and get inspired by his visual insights into writing and creativity. His work is wonderful. I’ve ordered two of this posters for my classroom.

Here are some of his posters about poetry which you can purchase in his Poster Shop. (Just so you know, I don’t know Grant. I have his feed in my RSS and just love his work.)

(read more of this comic)

Peace (in the poetry),

Wonder Poem: Itaipu Dam

Today’s Wonder of the World poem prompt is about the Itaipu Dam in South America. I can’t say that I knew much about it, so thanks to Mary Lee for putting it on her list of wonders.

I was imagining the sheer volume of water flowing over the structure as I read about the dam– just a mad rush of flow and a $20 billion controversy in a part of the world where so many people struggle — and so I wrote a poem that I then converted into ASCII code, as if my words were something different, in this case — numbers and code, moving over the edge of this space.

068 097 109 110 046 013 010 073 116 039 115 032 098 105 103 046 013 010 066 111 108 100 044 032 101 118 101 110 046 013 010 065 032 110 101 116 032 111 102 032 101 110 101 114 103 121 013 010 119 104 111 115 101 032 115 111 117 110 100 116 114 097 099 107 013 010 099 097 110 032 098 101 032 104 101 097 114 100 013 010 109 097 110 121 032 109 105 108 101 115 032 097 119 097 121 044 013 010 097 032 115 111 117 110 100 105 110 103 032 115 116 111 110 101 013 010 111 102 032 114 097 119 032 102 108 111 119 046 013 010 072 111 119 032 109 097 110 121 032 109 111 117 116 104 115 013 010 099 111 117 108 100 032 104 097 118 101 032 098 101 101 110 032 102 101 100 013 010 102 111 114 032 116 104 101 032 099 111 115 116 032 111 102 013 010 116 104 105 115 032 101 110 103 105 110 101 101 114 105 110 103 032 102 101 097 116 063 013 010 068 097 109 110 046

Wondering about the poem? You can go into the ASCII/Text converter and convert it back.  Just copy and paste my poem above into the converter. Or you can cheat and go to this link.

Peace (in the flow),

DigiLit Sunday: Poetry Genius

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Each Sunday, a bunch of teachers (thanks to Margaret) are sharing out various technology tools that might have value around reading and writing. This week,  I thought I would showcase a site called Poetry Genius. It’s part of a collection of annotation tools that include ones around song lyrics. What I like about Poetry Genius is the ability to layer in other media, and if enough folks are adding annotations (which we did during the #walkmyworld project), it starts a conversation about lines and phrases and stanzas.

One of my #walkmyworld poems was this one: Trading Fours on a Saturday Night.

You can embed the projects in other sites:

They have an Educator Genius account for classroom teachers, but the age of students have to be at least 13 years old (although the way around that could be do a classroom collaborative annotation on a whiteboard)

Peace (in the annotations),


Empires Rise and Fall

I’m not sure if today’s theme is really the Empire State Building or not, for our Wonders of the World poems (I think it is), but I started to think about the word “empire” and then that led me to “family.”

I took my poem — Empires Rise and Fall — and went into Poetry Genius, a site that allows you to annotate poems with text, links, images, and video. You will notice that I put the podcast of the poem into the site, too.

Feel free to add your own annotations to the poem — confront me on my views of memory and feel free to challenge me on the truth of my own family story. Or add your own poem by lifting lines from mine.

Peace (in memory),

Webcomic: The Dangerous Lives of Poets

This morning, the Wonder Poem (posted by Mary Lee) is about the CN Tower in Toronto. I wrote a poem and then thought I would jazz it up a bit with some humor as webcomic. So, I did. I was struck by the use of colors for events through the year and how it seemed to me to be like a flower without petals.

The Dangerous Life of Poets (CT Tower)

Peace (in the high places),