Ham Radio was the original Twitter
So I was driving home last night and saw an old man in his station wagon, I happened to notice that his license plate was his amateur radio call sign. This promptly reminded me of a recent occurrence at the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting where some of my Twitter friends had a “TweetUp” (for the uninitiated, it is akin to a “Meet Up”). In the lobby of the hotel we started to introduce ourselves by our Twitter profile names. In fact, most people had their profile name on the back of their conference name badge printed like this: ”@SportLinguist” (go ahead, follow me).
As my first exposure to this kind of behavior it was an interesting moment for me. But this is certainly not the first time this has happened for Twitter users, and it is certainly not the firs time it has happened in technological history. Pre-internet days had people using Citizen Band (CB) radios where everyone had a “Handle” (aka: radio name), and this was the tool that truckers and road-trippers used to stay connected on the lonely highway. Before the CB was the Amateur Radio and the “Hams” that used them. In fact, so as not to mislead you, Amateur Radio still has a strong presence and user base, even recently being used in OUTER SPACE at the International Space Station.
Getting back to how Amateur Radio was the first Twitter, my experience at the TweetUp reminded me of the way that Amateur Radio operators get together; they all drive their cars to a field and conduct practice exercises of emergency radio communication for disaster preparedness. This is an extremely critical means of communication for disasters and these people put their amateur radio networks to use to help other people. Twitter is also a great tool for organization, unless your internet gets shut down, but then again, even amateur radio can be jammed. Getting back to the point, these are social networks of people who use technology to communicate with each other, and they recognize each other by their profile names.
Like the TweetUp, these field exercises get ham radio operators to congregate. They all drive to a field and set up their stations and antennas and sit around talking face to face. Other operators recognize each other by their call signs which are proudly displayed on just about everything these people own: baseball caps, tee shirts, belt buckles, license plates, cigarette lighters, coffee mugs and even watches. Sound familiar?
Check out this video about a field day so that you can see amateur radio operators in action. Frankly, this is much more interesting than watching a video about people using Twitter (could you imagine!).
I wonder if there is anything we can learn from the radio folks.
Anyway, I wanted to get this out there so that we could talk about it.