Originally published 06/24/2013
Tom Standage is the digital editor at The Economist and the author of the forthcoming book “Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years.”LONDON — SOCIAL networks stand accused of being enemies of productivity. According to one popular (if questionable) infographic circulating online, the use of Facebook, Twitter and other such sites at work costs the American economy $650 billion each year. Our attention spans are atrophying, our test scores declining, all because of these “weapons of mass distraction.”Yet such worries have arisen before. In England in the late 1600s, very similar concerns were expressed about another new media-sharing environment, the allure of which seemed to be undermining young people’s ability to concentrate on their studies or their work: the coffeehouse. It was the social-networking site of its day.
Originally published 06/18/2013
IN SOVIET times, it was the ideological caprice of the moment, rather than any open-ended research into the past, that determined how people were taught to view the different phases of their country's history. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, official history lessons denounced the Tsars for their cruel treatment of smaller nations. Then the Russian empire was rehabilitated as a "lesser evil" than its weaker neighbours; and as Stalin's repression reached its height, his regime and its ideological masters began to find merit in the savageries of Ivan the Terrible. There was a sardonic saying that summed up these dizzying fluctuations: "The future is known—it's always bright—but the past keeps changing."
Originally published 04/23/2013
FEW school subjects are so divisive. When Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, released draft changes to the country’s national curriculum in February it was his plan for history that created headlines. Mr Gove’s proposal called for history to be studied “as a coherent, chronological narrative”, beginning with the early Britons and ending with the cold war. Opponents said the syllabus overstressed the deeds of “posh white blokes” and underplayed those of minorities. “Unteachable, unlearnable and un-British” blasted a campaign group on April 10th. Rival camps of historians have published petitions and rowed on television. That shoot-out will last beyond the official consultation period, which closes next week.
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