Posted by: kshayes513 | November 29, 2010

Facebook Ate My Blogging Time!

That’s what happens when you open a Facebook account. It becomes the easiest place to go for news and tidbits from friends and likes, and the quickest way to share links to anything that interests you. For some people, I guess, it can become a colossal time eater-those who play the games, do all the quizzes, fill out the memes. Got ’em all blocked now. No, I don’t want to watch every post you make while playing Farmville! If there was a way to block posts about American football, I’d do that, too. So that’s where I’ve been hanging out online- over there on my Facebook page (and working quite a lot, too, I’m happy to say!). I’ll try not to be gone so long again!

So here’s a worldbuilding question: what in your world is the equivalent of Facebook?

And no, you can’t say, “my world is pre-technological, so we don’t have anything like that.”

Because it’s a trick question. Before you can answer, you have to figure out what role/roles you think Facebook plays in our culture, then ask yourself what institutions, events or technologies in your world fulfill the same roles?

If I were writing a medieval type story, I’d say the nearest equivalent is, perhaps, a great annual fair: a place where people come from all over the map to do business, swap news, be entertained, and hang out with friends. If a fair could last for months, we wouldn’t need FB. A near eastern souk serves much the same functions; so did many of the great pilgrimages, with an added religious dimension.

But then, people meet face to face at a real fair or souk or pilgrimage. On Facebook we know some of our friends, but will never meet many others. So perhaps Facebook is more like correspondence – or like a magazine that everyone can contribute, that’s always being published.

In Khasran, there are fairs and markets (no pilgrimages that I know of); but there’s also something else that serves one of the functions of Facebook, to communicate between people separated by distance. There’s the Showing. A person with the right talent can embed a memory or an invented scene into almost any object. Touch a mural scene painted on a wall, and the whole story plays in your mind; hold a kargat stone and experience an important game played by the stone’s owner; pass around a talisman, and the message or image or event embedded in it will be revealed to everyone who holds it. Even a song can carry a showing through the music, if the singer has the gift.

But the most remarkable thing about a Showing is that it can endure for generations, if it is carefully crafted.  A whole nation’s history could be embedded in the stones of a temple, for descendants to read for centuries.

I’d like to see Facebook do that!


  1. Great idea. Hadn’t thought about it that way. I think in more traditional societies, wherever you went to get your water would be like Facebook. You not only chatted with friends but got to hear all the news and gossip about those not present. Alternatively, the town pub or neighborhood restaurant where the locals hang out to drink. Lot of time wasting in those places too.

  2. We’re still talking face to face, though. The only way I can think of for non-technological people to communicate over long distance is through magic or telepathy (which some would insist is equivalent to magic).
    Tolkien’s palantir allowed long distance communication, but they weren’t exactly for general use. A traditional society, especially one spread out over great distances, might well develop some other means of magical communication to stay in touch. Hmm, what might that be?

  3. I thumbs-up the way you think!

  4. Oh, and thanks for the link to this blog, Cynthia!

  5. I came up with a steampunk version of TV, but that’s not Facebook and since it might be used in a future work I don’t want to say how it works.

    In Help Wanted, Human, I have the Personnel/Security/Systems Interface which is a bio-genetically engineered system which through implants, records every thing you do to be shared later as a person sees fit. Humans only have limited access to it because the technology is beyond us still.

  6. Welcome, Ien! And thanks, Cynthia, for the link! Steampunk TV- I loves my steampunk!
    Your implants sound like a technology that could have many fascinating consequences. Have you read Matt Stover’s Heroes Die? It involves a similar recording technology whose purpose drives the whole plot, in a really original blend of dystopic SF and gritty sword and sorcery.

  7. Karen,
    The Facebook of my alternative history novel would be the debutant ball. My story follows four generations of a slave family between 1830 and 1920 who used nonviolent resistance to stop the Civil War and derail imperialism.

    As I thought about your question, I saw the role of the debutant ball fitting into my world because the protagonist’s owner had a daughter, Cora, who used the county ball as a way to influence people. She knew the ball was a way of showing off women for marriage, but also framed a business networking for the men who would arrive from across the state.

    However, Cora failed to target her audience, a problem some of us have with social networking. Cora wanted a school built, but had to face opposition from her father and most of the men. Cora staged a boycott of the ball with some friends who set up tables of skills they could offer if they had a school.

    Yet, the boycott angered the town’s men without gaining support. My character of a British freeman banker told her that the real target was the visiting men from out of town who arrived from Savannah. Her tables were set up away from where the visitors pulled in with their carriages and they could not see her demonstration.

    The aspects of reaching people out of our immediate community, showing off skills and also setting up the right wall seem so much like Facebook.

    What do you think?

  8. What about the trusty notice board?

    I imagine most town halls or taverns would include a notice bord for local residents and travellers. From my understanding of internet history facebook and social media sprang out of forums and bulleting boards which themselves were based upon the idea of a village notice board.

    This way you could potentially have people communicating with someone they have never met before. They post up a request for something and a traveller comes on through and sees the notice. They go out, do the task and report back by leaving a reply on the board.

    If these people visit the notice board at different times then it is likely they will never meet. However you also have the continual social aspect because there will always be people in the tavern that a character could talk to.

  9. Thanks for joining us, Vancano!

    Yes, good catch on the link between actual bulletin boards and online ones. In a preindustrial society, a written bulletin board does presume a generally literate population, not to mention an abundance of cheap media like paper to write on. I wonder whether you could have a bulletin board or something equivalent in non-literate societies?

  10. In non-literate societies, we’ve seen town-criers, pictographs and the like, talking drums in Africa and smoke signals in North America. And of course, good old-fashioned gossip. Facebook and Twitter are really just high-tech word-of-mouth, no?

  11. It’s good to be here 🙂

    Interesting point on literate and non-literate, I’d completely missed that. Maybe a non-literate would use pictures and icons to symbolise concrete things in the world. I’m thinking kind of caveman-esque?

    The main issue with only using pictures is being able to symbolise abstract concepts. To get over that you could have the tavern master (or who ever lives at the social hub) serving as a town-crier or at least a “point of contact”. I’m not sure how else you could get around the non-literate barrier.


  12. haha, sorry Ien, seems I was too long in writing my reply =P

    I agree with Facebook and Twitter being a high-teck word-of-mouth.

    Gossip – now there is something interesting. What about a village that has a “womans circle”, infact anywhere women congregate would serve as a news broadcasting space. A quick witted entrepanurial/marketing type character could learn to leverage the curiosity of this network to their advantage.

  13. Nate,

    As I’m reading your last comment, my wife and her friends are sewing together and digesting the local…ahem, news.

    In pre-revolutionary Paris (if you remember Tale of Two Cities) the women kept tabs on who was and was not politically correct in the patterns of their knitting. A very covert form of message boarding.

    Your caveman reference makes me wonder if the caves at Lascaux and elsewhere might not have been a kind of message board, too. What about crop circles? And for that matter, SETI?

  14. You could have people, like town criers, who had excellent memories. Their job would be to care news reports in detail from town to town like a bard. Come to think of it, poetry was a method of aiding in memorization of tales. Before writing, we did have message runners.

  15. You know I havent even read The Tale of Two Cities. I’m such a bad English student, I have hardly read any of the classics. I became a Jane Austen fan after just reading the first few pages of Emma (before my little sister nicked it to read and I never saw it back) but I’ve not touched much of the other stuff, watched a few of the films though.

    Ooh crop circles, now we’re moving into interesting realms. A large inter-galactic message board. The aliens are SOO beyond Facebook they’ve started back at the beginning… lol

    @Cynthia: Bard’s are brilliant for recording history and the tales of great heroes. Maybe if you had a really quick thinking bard he could turn the day’s news into a jingle for people to remember. The idea of having a travelling new’s reader sounds quite fun… that makes me thing of “The Postman”, great film.

    I think the bottom line to all of this is that news is a very important aspect to any social group. Without a way to actively keep a population up to date with current events community spirit breaks down and you get a society of isolationists. Every man for himself, even more fear of outsiders and the unknown etc. etc.

    So when building your own world thinking about how news is gathered, reported and distributed to the general population is well worth considering. It might even lead to an interesting story or two for you to write about.


  16. Great comments and ideas, everyone! Nate, your last 2 paragraphs are the kind of response that gives me fodder for new posts, and hopefully gives other worldbuilders lots of new ideas!

  17. Glad I can be of help Kshayes. I look forward to reading the inspired new articles when you publish them 🙂

    Have a very Merry Christmas!


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