I am an old timer. Not as old as that bit of Latin would imply, but old enough to have learned it at school and used it at university; after all, it was used for coding along with Greek for algorithmic coding during the ‘prehistory’ of the internet, WWW and social media. Now we can use a translation platform to find out what that means. Try it; dead easy. I was, nonetheless, not there from the start. Social media began in 1844 when a series of electronic dots and dashes were tapped out on a telegraph machine by Samuel Morse whose achievement took his name as Morse code. He also saw the potential downside when he wrote ‘What hath God wrought?’ about what he had unleashed on the world. OMG and LOL were even standard acronyms early on, not recently as people believe. I joined the communications world much later.

When mainframe computers that occupied a building came along I dutifully kept my boxes of punch cards neatly stacked in a dedicated corner near my monitor, went to the place where the cards were punched out then carried two a time back to my office. They were that heavy. Swearing profusely about several trips to collect a complete manuscript of a dissertation, report or book was about the most social media that existed back then.

Then we started to have some very basic networks like the Joint Academic Network, JANET, which seemed like a dream come true. Following on was JIPS, then SuperJanet, although the WWW preceded it giving us two possible search options. The rest of that is history. We had PLATO and ARPANET offering useful networks, but talking to each other was still not really in there. However BBS and IRC began to make social media a reality.

The WWW was invented by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN just outside Geneva in 1989 where it was an almost immediate success that rapidly spread to other scientific and academic institutions. It was conceived as a universal linked information system that was released outside CERN to other research institutions during January 1991 then made available to the general public in August the same year. When Berners-Lee announced its release there were a few people rather agnostic if not entirely sceptical about whether it would go anywhere. Within two years over 50 websites had been created.

Online communication services such as CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy appeared, not far behind Yahoo! and MSN Messenger; things came and went then other things came and went. Amazon began to sell books, one of few online booksellers anywhere. They grew; the need for personal computers grew, so Amazon sold them. Online sales companies mushroomed, some were not even real, but we were learning. Then SixDegrees appeared at a moment when it appeared to be the best thing since sliced bread. Until Friendster came along in 2001; then LinkedIn for professional people turned up in 2002 and MySpace the same year. SixDegrees closed down but soon along came others. We were grateful. In less than a generation, social media has evolved from just being a direct electronic information exchange to a number of very different things that include a virtual meeting place, retail platform, a vital and effective 21 century marketing tool and a wealth generator of almost unseen before proportions. Without the platforms available that they own or use, most of the multibillionaires in the world today would be nothing like as wealthy. Some of them are the puppeteers behind what we get, thus use.

Then it began to be something like the Beauty and the Beast’s child, born beautiful but becoming like Daddy as it grew. We had soon and still have Facebook, Skype, Zoom, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Telegram, Twitter and countless other media that allowed us to talk and even see each other that were similar, the same, different, dangerous, leaky, unreliable and here we need a whole thesaurus of what we have. They give us online streaming that is strangling television and hardcopy film and music sales, podcasts, webinars and other essentially great products and services. We almost no longer need to go shopping since almost everything can be ordered online. Whatever we consider those things they belong within the strict definition of social media. We are now where we are. Many of us are now weighing up what to do to stop using data harvesting, phishing and in many ways nastily reactionary social media. Perhaps Musk put a solution in place by buying up then raping Twitter that was already losing friends; we need to know exactly what we now have, soon will appear and how to use it. Some of us migrated to Mastodon after Musk’s Twitter defoliation, but that is gradually attracting the same unpleasant users as other social media. Meta failed as soon as it began to pretend not to be just Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and at least six other platforms with a selection of uses but ultimately one purpose which is to make money. From the point of view of many users, when simple things became not more difficult to use but suddenly became unreliable, they were no longer interesting. Also there are trends very easily comparable with fashions in music and clothes that make and break social media.

So a growing number of us are now looking for a way out with something new to go to. This article simply sums up the scrap heap it is, offers no solutions, but are there any? No doubt I shall now have a string of suggestions, but believe me when I say that somebody in my circle of worldwide contacts will probably have tried more or less all of them and, quite frankly, that boils down to people’s favourites, not what works or is best. All have flaws; those imperfections are cracks that become chasms. We want something else, but what is another question.

Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

    Simone Veil – Woman of the Century

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