Social Networking in the 1600s

Coffee houses were the original social networks. Ideas bloomed but similarly, so too did distraction.

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.

“Penny universities” reminded me of modern day micro-payments, like the 99 cents you pay to iTunes. However, the author thinks it’s more of a freemium for participation, the modern version of free online education assuming you have wifi.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.