Great Moments in History: An introduction and our first case study

The 2008 presidential election marked the first time that new, emerging and social media was really harnessed in order to bring people together, distribute information and engage people in the political process. But what about history? How could past moments have benefited from the use of technology today? Over the next nine weeks we’ll look at some events and apply new media techniques. Disclaimer: A suspension of disbelief may be required due to the time periods the events are set in.

Before we get started though, let’s think about some past events that have helped make today’s technology possible. First, the wheel. Without it, there would have been no control interface for radios and televisions, iPods and other tech devices. Electricity. I had thought about writing about how the word about electricty would be spread using new media, but since modern devices require electricity to function, this would not have been possible and could have potentially resulted in some sort of strange warping of space and time. Finally, we’ll thank Tom Edison for the lightbulb since this formed the basis for a lot of the displays we rely on today to view the information that is presented to us. Now onto our feature presentation…The Ride of Paul Revere.

“On the 18th of April in ’75” Paul Revere had a bit of a problem. The British were coming and he had to get the word out about the pending invasion, you can read the entire poem by Longfellow by checking out the link. To summarize though, a signal for the invasion was one lamp by land and two by sea. Once the signal was raised, Revere would ride to neighboring towns to warn the people so they could prepare their defenses. The ride took several hours and while the colonists were sucessful in defeating the British soldiers.

So how might new media help with this tale? For starters, let’s think about the ride itself. A single person riding along darkened paths could have had an accident and failed to reach the towns in time to give the warning in time.  With blogs and though, the revolutionaries could have set up their organization and maybe even created a private Facebook page for it so select individuals could become “fans” of the revolution. Once the signal was decided on, an app could have been created for the iPhone and other smart phones that displayed one or two lamps. This signal could be sent by a single agent watching the British to see how they would move. Once their method of transport was confirmed the signal could be sent out as a picture, text message or tweet to friends and followers (who would have provided their contact information via the Facebook page). This message would be recieved within seconds rather than hours allowing more than ample time to prepare defenses, or if plans changed, to alert those further down the road of the changes so alternate plans could be activated.

In conclusion, the use of modern technology would have allowed for a more timely, safe distribution of information about the advance of British forces. On the other hand though, “Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight Twitter of Paul Revere,” lacks the romantic appeal to adventure that the original story had.


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