Sunday, March 27, 2011

Great Grandmothers, Social Networks, Revolution!


A long, long time ago, when the late Victorian Era ladies and their daughters who were born before the arrival of the Roaring Twenties, when most "civilized" women of the day's cultured society did not drive horseless carriages  nor leave the house without extensive preparation in grooming and attire. Even after the Dress Reform Movement and associated undergarment reform, it might take hours to just get ready to go to the market on the horse drawn trolley down a poop laden, smelly dirt street. This after waking at dawn or before to see to it that her husband and children were fed and clothed. It was an ordeal, not very glamorous, particularly for the wife of a successful business person or public figure in her community.

Alas, the market, the general store, the apothecary, and so on, were the only places during the average day that she could meet and chat with friends and acquaintances, those not her immediate neighbors over the fence behind the garden or grape arbor. Communication, idle or otherwise, was no more easy to engage in that transportation.

My great grandmother was one of the ladies of that day. She lived in Greenfield, MA in the 1910s. Her husband was a bit of a techie for his day, a gadget freak. He had one of the first private autos in town. Several folks had early trucks  to haul goods to and from market and the local metal and textile mills, but my grandfather's car for hauling people for such purposes as having a picnic up the old farm road by the mountain stream on Sunday. Gasoline powered vehicles were so rare in that day, he had to have his own big gas tank with attached hand-pump in what had been the carriage barn.

Around the same time that my great grandfather brought home that big car, he had the local phone company install two telephones . One was in the house that he, his wife, and my grandmother and grand uncle lived in. The other was at his mill up by the Vermont border, in Turner's Falls. Back at the turn of the last century, as the auto and telephone were ascending, and the region's textile and milling economy had yet to settle into utter decline, it was common for affluent owners of businesses to live a far bit away apart from their going concerns. With no highways as we know them today, a telephone link from the owner's home to the plant or store was the way to ride herd on employees working nights and weekends. Likewise, pharmacists , doctors, shop owners and other business folk could call up via the central operator (no dials or push buttons on phones yet) their suppliers and commercial customers.

But, what's this got to do with social networking and ladies who liked to gab with their turn o'the last century friends?

Well, remember how dirty, smelly, and time consuming it was for middle class and prosperous women to get down to the milliners for a fancy hat and the essential community news of the day with their friends about who and what was up or down, and for coconspirators to discuss such things as the emerging Suffrage Movement.

My great grandmother and some of her colleagues noticed that they could pick up those phones and ring through Central to get in touch with each other while still dressed in their house coats, securely away from their husbands and children busy at work or school or toiling in the mills, and speak freely and intimately… even politically.

Today, girls in Tokyo, Seoul, Detroit, Toronto, Tel Aviv and elsewhere text gossip and small news franticly while young women at the foment of revolution in the Middle East lay their lives on the line in tele-communicated bits.

The beat goes on. It is interesting how some things do not change, but they do evolve and iterate with tech and culture. Interesting. Anyhow, thank you Bubbie Fannie and your ilk, then and now and into the future, for your contributions.