A recent xkcd:
Morse code was first used for telegraphy in 1844. I'm not sure when the French navy started to use it, but I understand that transmission of Morse code by radio began in the 1890s, so if that last plaintive message was sent in 1997, Morse code in the French navy would have had a run of just about 100 years. LiveJournal was started in April of 1999, and of course some people still use it, but it flowered and faded in the U.S. over a period of about a decade: "In January 2009 LiveJournal laid off some employees and moved product development and design functions to Russia", according to Wikipedia.
Yesterday I attended a workshop on Social Media Data at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and it occurred to me to wonder what the social media landscape will be like ten years from now.
In particular, I remembered the situation ten years ago, when I visited Japan and saw everyone texting all the time on the street, in public transport, in a university cafeteria, and so on. At that time, I couldn't find any Americans who had ever sent or received a cell-phone text message, aside from a handful of curious techies who had tried it to see how it worked. ("Texting", 3/8/2004; "More on meiru", 3/9/2004).
Others had noticed this American exceptionalism and commented on it (e.g. "No text please, we're American", The Economist 3/3/2003). All sorts of explanations were floated at the time for the lack of American texting uptake; and there has been some speculation since about how and why the situation changed so radically and so quickly. ("What's the difference", 3/10/2008; "How things have changed…", 11/21/2009; "What caused the texting tsunami?", 6/6/2011). But anyhow, change it did.
So I wondered how the social media landscape might be different ten years from now.
As Yogi Berra said, "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." But here's an easy one: multimedia messaging will take over from text-only messaging. This has already started to happen in various different ways, with things like snapchat, WhatsApp, and wechat.
Therefore it's plausible that in a few years, SMS will be as dead as Morse code, with text messaging one small facet of diverse open-ended multimedia systems for personal communication. The 140-character SMS messsage will have something like the current cultural role of the haiku.
But what about Twitter, which was founded in 2006? Will a last plaintive tweet soon echo across the sere landscape of a deserted twitterverse?
As it happens, there have been two radically different different takes on this question in the past few days — Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer, "A Eulogy for Twitter: The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight", The Atlantic 4/30/2014; Will Oremus, "Twitter is Not Dying: It’s on the cusp of getting much bigger. Here’s why.", Slate 5/1/2014.
A side note on "eternal silence"…. Presumably the French navy's last Morse code transmission was in French, not English — does any know what the French text was? In particular, it would ironic if the French version of "last cry" was actually "dernier cri"… It's suspicious that the French Wikipedia entry for L'alphabet morse doesn't mention this event, though the English counterpart does. Could this be an urban legend, starting as someone's poetic rumination on the passage of a grand cultural tradition, and gradually transformed into a pseudo-historical event?
But the Wikipedia article "Radiotélégraphiste de station côtière" has a sub-heading suggesting that it was not the French navy but rather the French coast guard, and that they actually did broadcast in English, and that the Economist's quotation was no more faulty than journalistic quotations usually are:
However, though this is authentic-looking, no source is cited.