Twitter back when: microblogging also popular in the 19th century

Published July 29, 2013

| FoxNews.com

These tweets are two centuries old.

Twitter's 140-character microblogging platform was revolutionary when Jack Dorsey and friends introduced it in 2006 -- or it seemed revolutionary, anyway. But microblogging was already very popular in the 19th century as a means of expressing one's self, said Lee Humphreys, assistant professor of communication at Cornell University.

"To submit a message on Twitter, it has to be under 140 characters," Humphreys said during a lecture at Cornell, according to Phys.org. "These are not paragraphs; these are barely even sentences … I was really interested in who does this and why do they do it, as well as what it means to be communicating in this way."

While the Internet and Twitter are new technologies, people in the 19th century used their diaries as a way of sharing their thoughts with friends and family.

The diaries they used were as small as 2 by 3 inches in size, and this caused people to write in short sentences just as they do on Twitter, she explained.

"There are clear analogue examples that helped me to understand why someone would opt into 140 characters … Twitter users took that invitation to limit their text, and found it, in fact, very liberating," Humphreys explained.

Humphreys and undergraduate student Seth Shaprio analyzed military blogs of today and Civil War diaries and letters of the past to highlight the differences and similarities between "Twitter talk" and 19th century writing.

"We chose two soldiers: 'Dadmanly,' a blogging soldier from the war in Iraq, and the diary and letters of 'CharlieMac,' a union soldier in the Civil War."

Both soldiers relied on technological systems of their time to communicate with home: One chose the Internet, the other the postal system.

"In these mundane details we share our lives with those we love," Humphreys said. "We see this being done historically … with diaries and letters -- and today with social media."

"It isn't surprising that this hasn't changed," she added.

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