The Garret Tree
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
  The pre-Twitter tweets from The Economist

It has been said so many times, "it came before its time."

More than a quarter century ago, the staid old Economist invented Tweeting. Of course, only a handful of people noticed (and I'm sure The Economist has forgotten all about it).

By the way, I have just joined Twitter and you can follow me (if you care) at rowlandr.

Back in 1981, I was working in London, at the Universal News Services PR wire and using Britain's fledgling Prestel videotex service. The Economist was also one of Prestel's clients.

In this early form of new media, you had a keyboard attached to a TV screen, which was wired through the phone system to a mainframe computer somewhere in an early version of cyberspace.

It was also expensive. You were not only paying for the phone line (at per minute rates) but in most cases (unless Prestel waived the charges) a per page fee as well. (So it never really got anywhere, a warning to those revisionist columnists who think the media should have started charging for access in the early days of the web).

The best way to get the news across was in short briefs. Not everyone did that, but The Economist did. If you wanted to print out a page, it came out on silvered, heat sensitive paper, with the type appearing only slightly darker silver. Hard to read, old chap.

And why do I remember all this? One story in the summer of 1981, reminded me of my home in "the colonies." It went something like this

There's good news and bad news from Canada. The good news is that the television network is on strike. The bad news is that the post office is on strike.
(I make that 130 characters)

Ha ha ha. Yes there was a strike at the CBC at that time, And yes Canada Post was going through his infamous period of labour unrest.

The other stories were just like that. They were "tweets."

If they only knew what they started.........

Of course, The Economist is back at it. Twitter name The Economist and as of this moment there are 10,195 followers.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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