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Re: [pepysdiary] Social Networking in the 1600s

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  • IAN GREENWOOD
    When we were students we always hankered after a late-1960s equivalent of the 17th century coffee house where we could meet and discuss the mighty issues of
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 22, 2013
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      When we were students we always hankered after a late-1960s equivalent of the 17th century coffee house where we could meet and discuss the mighty issues of the day. The nearest we got was the cafe in the Round House in Chalk Farm. I sat there once a whole morning hoping to engage some passing intellectual (preferably female) in stimulating conversation. Forty years on I tried it again (this time a whole twenty minutes). Didn't work, either time.

      From: terry foreman <terry.foreman@...>
      To: pepysdiary-yahoogroup <pepysdiary@yahoogroups.com>; evelyndiary@...; Roger Brown <broroger@...>
      Sent: Saturday, 22 June 2013, 21:58
      Subject: [pepysdiary] Social Networking in the 1600s
       
      [a few paragraphs on]
      The diary of Samuel Pepys, a government official, is punctuated by variations of the phrase “thence to the coffeehouse.” His entries give a sense of the wide-ranging conversations he found there. The ones for November 1663 alone include references to “a long and most passionate discourse between two doctors,” discussions of Roman history, how to store beer, a new type of nautical weapon and an approaching legal trial.
      One reason these conversations were so lively was that social distinctions were not recognized within the coffeehouse walls. Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, “gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece.”
      Not everyone approved. As well as complaining that Christians had abandoned their traditional beer in favor of a foreign drink, critics worried that coffeehouses were keeping people from productive work. Among the first to sound the alarm, in 1677, was Anthony Wood, an Oxford academic. “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the University?” he asked. “Answer: Because of Coffea Houses, where they spend all their time.”
      Meanwhile, Roger North, a lawyer, bemoaned, in Cambridge, the “vast Loss of Time grown out of a pure Novelty. For who can apply close to a Subject with his Head full of the Din of a Coffee-house?” These places were “the ruin of many serious and hopeful young gentlemen and tradesmen,” according to a pamphlet, “The Grand Concern of England Explained,” published in 1673.
      All of which brings to mind the dire warnings issued by many modern commentators. A common cause for concern, both then and now, is that new media-sharing platforms pose a particular danger to the young.
      But what was the actual impact of coffeehouses on productivity, education and innovation? Rather than enemies of industry, coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England’s pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as “penny universities.” It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his “Principia Mathematica,” one of the foundational works of modern science.
      Coffeehouses were platforms for innovation in the world of business, too. Merchants used coffeehouses as meeting rooms, which gave rise to new companies and new business models. A London coffeehouse called Jonathan’s, where merchants kept particular tables at which they would transact their business, turned into the London Stock Exchange. Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, a popular meeting place for ship captains, shipowners and traders, became the famous insurance market Lloyd’s.
      And the economist Adam Smith wrote much of his masterpiece “The Wealth of Nations” in the British Coffee House, a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated early drafts of his book for discussion.
      [more]  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/social-networking-in-the-1600s.html?hp&pagewanted=all
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