Gaps in Time

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Phantom Time? New Chronology? Missing Dark Ages?

No, the problem to which many are prone in historical fiction writing, that what is around today was around in the past, just with brass ornaments. Many seem unwilling to say, “There wasn’t anything like this back before the digital revolution.”

This is a thought pattern entwined with the *Your Friends in Funny Clothes* flaw. It’s the anachronism of assumption, like “There have always been houseplants” or “Nice people were never racists, let alone classists.”

This is most likely to show up in Near History settings, but sometimes the 19th century. Someone wants to transfer an activity or a personality type (the friend, being re-dressed) back from the present. Rather than researching what people were like or what they did, the inept research-avoider grabs what they think applies, based on wrong assumptions. Which is usually based on lack of knowledge of the target time, or anything in between.

Take — the Internet.

What, before WW2, would have been the equivalent of the person who lives on social sites, forums, and chat rooms?

I don’t have to make up this answer. On one forum thread, a group decided “of course” that the equivalent, before radio, of the Internet, must have been telegraphy.

It’s so obvious! It’s electrical/electronic, and reaches all over the world, and so those kinds of people must have learned Morse and chattered to strangers on the wires all the time.

No. Just no. It’s not even wrong.

See, they had jumped some gaps in their knowledge, and landed in nonsense up to their earrings.

Telegraph lines were always Big Business, and no one accessed them except telegraph operators in telegraph offices. People didn’t wire strangers any more than in mid-20th century they just phoned up strangers and started conversations. In today’s info-access world, it’s hard to find a metaphor for how limited access was in the past.

Part of the problem was that they had already jumped wrong at an earlier gap. It might have seemed logical to assume that the Inter-War equivalent for the Internet was — amateur radio!

After all, it’s electronic, it goes all over the world, and they must have used it like chat rooms!

Except — they didn’t. Actual communication was in code, not voice, most of the time into the 1970s. Contact is sporadic, depending on atmospherics. hams didn’t go online to chat (someone is confusing them with 1970’s CBers): they went to try to work more difficult or remote stations and swap DXL cards to prove it. There were live face-to-face meetings of local clubs, but that’s just another local club, right?

This is the problem with trying to figure out history from today backwards.

No one told the past that it was supposed to have equivalents to what we do today, so it often didn’t have them. Today is often cut off by technology or societal change from yesterday like someone closed the blast doors between.

When trying to figure out yesterday, you can’t start with today. You have to start with the day before yesterday and work forward. You have to research yesterday and let the answer come up out of the facts. You have to avoid forcing anachronisms to make the past like today.

The answer for “What did people use in place of social media?” is not answered by looking for electricity and global reach. The answer is in “social” and “media.”

They wrote letters.

That’s right. Snail mail is good for more than greeting cards and advertising. People wrote letters, sometimes huge letters, sometimes tons of letters, sometimes to lots of people they had never met. They had charming correspondences with folks they never saw, except in enclosed photos. They even introduced correspondents to each other, and they became “pen pals,” too, resulting in “circles” of writers socializing and discussing topics of common interest.

A classic example of this was the Lovecraft circle, centered around Howard Philips Lovecraft of Providence, RI. If HPL had written half as much fiction as he did letters, he could have made a real living from his output! Instead, he webbed together so many of the writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction in the *Weird Tales* period, and influenced them all.

Telephones only enter into the equation when long-distance became cheap — and by then the Internet was revving its motor.

So, having done our research, rather than guessing backwards, we find we can actually take our “social media addict” a long way back in history. The Classical Romans were probably the earliest with circles of correspondence. It’s just not going to be a continuous line, and in many centuries your social media addict will be stuck with collecting only local gossip down at the well.

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