Thursday, December 10, 2009

scrapping over scrapple

My friend Mario shared this link on facebook a while ago (and was re-sharing, so undoubtedly it is making the rounds), but I have been thinking about commenting, and facebook, and the "death" of print recently and wanted to re-re share, with a twist.

The short article recounts how in 1872, a hot letters-to-the-editor debate broke out in the pages of the New York Times over the delights (or horrors, depending on your position) of Scrapple. If you sign up for a free subscription you can read the referenced Times articles, but I also include the original letter from "Epicure" here:

I'm from New Jersey, but I'm not sure I have ever eaten Scrapple, and have probably confused it with head cheese, which seems equally disgusting, but eminently practical and old-world, in its desire to use just about every part of the animal for food, wasting nothing. Epicure not only extolled the economical aspects of making Scrapple, but its delicious taste.

After Epicure wrote his article, the pseudonymous responses flooded in, from readers Porcupine, Physician, and A Good Liver, to name a few. How different is this from blogs or facebook, where folks share an article, an idea, a song, a video and then their friends or audience weighs in, re-shares, flames, or endorses the original digital missive? Humans like to engage in debate, and verbal debates can range from the sublimely witty to the crass and ridiculous. A trend being discussed in blogs lately is whether to ditch the comments option altogether, with the blogger including an email address if a reader has something to say. This idea seems to be promoted by folks who still don't understand what social media or human interaction is about. If you take away the possibility of conversation, why are you bothering to blog at all?

A few years ago you might have heard the lament that email was killing good old-fashioned letter writing. Maybe temporarily, email reigned supreme. But the past few years it has become clear that email is functional and necessary as a tool at work, but for social communication email is a dinosaur, much like the yearly "letter" that people send around the holidays, updating their friends and family on all their exciting accomplishments throughout the year. Who is going to bother to read that? If you really wanted your friends and family to know what your life is like, you'd friend them on facebook or follow them on twitter or update your blog.

But back to the great Scrapple debate of 1872. The letters were written at a time when letter-writing was the primary mode of communication for public debate, apart from the neighborhood soapbox. The world is changing and newsprint is becoming a less-viable medium. But the debate is still raging, and always will. On the internet, on talk shows, through company websites. Everyone has an opinion, and modern-day Porcupines, Physicians, and Epicures can share and open and re-open the debate. Dive in everyone. And to take a twist on McLuhan, it doesn't matter which medium you choose to use. It's the message you want to share. But I'll pass on the Scrapple. Thanks.


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