It’s summertime. We’re getting together with friends around the backyard grill or nearest swimming hole. This got the archives staff thinking; now that so many of our interactions are virtual rather than analog, face-to-face, or physically represented, what have we gained and what have we lost? Addressing this question was the impetus for Being Social Before Social Media, a Burns Library exhibit looking back at how people dated, networked, partied, and shared their travels before smart phones, apps, or even (gasp) the Internet.
In order to select materials for the exhibit, we thought about how we use our social media accounts and themes emerged. Some platforms try to do everything (Facebook, we’re looking at you); however, we found that in many cases what was once a single traditional function is now possible through multiple apps. Want to compile things you love and share them with others? Traditional scrapbooking with scissors and paste has been replaced by posting on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, snapping a digital photo and sharing on Instagram…the list goes on.
Social media is also used to network; conduct business; create a profile or online persona; meet a mate or find friends; play games; share adventures; journal our daily thoughts; share photos; raise funds; and even (more nefariously) vent a grudge or impersonate someone else. All these activities were done very differently in the past. Since the Burns Library collects the papers of artists, authors, scholars, senators, and students, there are many examples from the pre-digital era. Author Bernard Shaw took selfies (well, almost); journalist Katherine Conway picked up souvenir photographs of sites in North Africa to show mom where she’d been; Boston College librarian Helen Landreth traded recipe cards with friends and family (jello salad anyone?); and a young future-president enrolled in the Charitable Irish Society of Boston to make some good connections. We had so much fun discovering these items and more! Come and visit us this summer to cool off and see how we used to be social.
- Lynn Moulton, Burns Library Processing Archivist