Social Networking in the Middle Ages
|Networking can mean many different things, from one-time run-ins to social circles that are in constant contact. Despite differences in form, distance, literacy, and communities, the use of social networking in the Middle Ages is not much different than the use of social networking today. During the Middle Ages, individuals used books of hours to keep track of a personal prayer schedule as well as used as an “autograph” book, and businesses relied on the networks of customers and other merchants to spread word of certain goods. These recording devices were—much like those used by individuals today—use sites such as Facebook to keep track of certain events and businesses use the same sites for advertising because the shift from ecclesiastical tie to secular time is marked by social interaction.
Social networking is much older than MySpace or Facebook, or even the internet or electricity, none of which are require for the success of social networking. During the Middle Ages, the Book of Hours, a religious text, was integrated into secular society where it was intended to mimic the scheduling of prayers from the Catholic Church by the laymen. Just as MySpace and Facebook have enabled people all over the world to coincide schedules, even if only for “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” these books of hours enabled those living outside of the Catholic Church to follow the prayer times of the clergy, promoting the spread of a universalized form of Christianity in the secular working world. A person’s book of hours was often individualized, with different illustrations and covers showing status and personality; this personalization is not unlike the HTML layouts and personalization options available for most social networking websites. By comparing and contrasting the conception, creation, expansion, and use of social networking, it is easy to see how today’s society is a repetition of the Middle Ages.
The advancement of society and culture does not happen suddenly; rather, it takes time and effort. Someone must have had the idea to create a prayer schedule, someone else must have had the idea to use illustrations, and yet another person must have had the idea of how to spread this illustrated schedule in an effective way. Each of these “someones” was what Daniel H. Pink calls “big-picture thinkers.” While Pink’s ideas are for modern times, they can be used to show that the human thought process, whether in the Middle Ages or the 20th century, are not so different from one another. The conception of the social network seems like it would be something a left-brained thinker would conceive, but in all reality, it is the combination right-brained and left-brained thinkers. Left-brained thinkers are the logical ones, the people who analyze data—they are the ones who suggested the written prayer schedule. Right-brained thinkers focus more on emotions and visual representations—they are the ones that formatted it in a pleasing way, illustrated it, and spread the word about it. The logical left-brained thinkers formed the initial idea, but it was the creative right-brained thinkers that perpetuated and marketed the idea, making it successful. Just as with our brains, separated into two hemispheres, “both halves play a role in nearly everything” (Pink, 17)—the author goes on to state that while the left half of the brain specializes in text, the right half’s specialty is context. In order for the laymen to fully understand the prayers on their schedules, they added illustrations. While the written prayers, quite literally the text, themselves exercised the left hemisphere of the brain, the illustrations gave context to the prayers, enabling the right hemisphere to have some sort of involvement. The left-brained thinkers became responsible for the creation of these books of hours, seeing it as a way to spread Christianity, but the right-brained thinkers took on the responsibility of presentation and viewed the distribution as something much larger than just religion. Pink’s book focuses on design, story, symphony, empathy, play/fun, and meaning—“high-concept, high-touch” senses that spread the word, whatever the word of the day happens to be.
The Book of Hours as we know it has come to be known is a simplified prayer schedule developed by laymen to imitate the breviary used by monks and nuns. The breviary included the psalms framed by supplementary texts called antiphons, “brief passages that helped to bring out the Christian significance of the old Jewish texts” (Hypertext Book of Hours). The complicated layout of the breviary included detailed schedules depending on a variety of factors, including time of day, day of week, and season. Even though the Book of Hours is a simplified prayer schedule, the 15th century brought about an even more simplified version—the rosary. Rather than relying on a calendar in a book to determine the order of prayer, Christians counted beads on a string to help memorize certain prayers, internalizing the experience and lessening the impact of networking as social status.
Two of the largest networks during the middle ages are the merchants and the clergy. The networking between merchants spanned a greater distance than that of the clergy—merchants travelled from port to port, country to country, with other merchants as well as customers, whereas the clergy’s networking system consisted of the Catholic Church. What effect did these books of hours have in the working world? The values of the Middle Ages revolved around the Catholic Church and religion, including work. Church time determined work time, and the difference between prayer and labor lies in (Mumford). Even teachers at universities were a type of official of the Catholic Church, as the Catholic Church was the unifying and driving force during this time. Clerics were “regarded as merchants, albeit of knowledge; and teaching…was seen as a king of commerce, albeit one which dealt in spiritual commodities” (Le Goff, Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages, 102). This difference between merchants and commerce shows that merchants were of a higher class whereas teachers, being in the commercial “class of paid workers, which the Middle Ages, like antiquity, held in contempt” (Le Goff, 101). Teachers during this time sold spiritual knowledge, a much different “good” to sell than that of basic Catholic Church knowledge (as the clerics “sold”). Because of the view of teachers during this time, the creation of a university market was created. This market in turn created a network of people that could be contacted for services such as education. Through this network of teachers, goods became more easily able to trade throughout the massive Eastern Roman Empire. This market also enabled “the commune of Padua [to provide] the teachers…with a salary” (Le Goff, 102). This ability to make change at even one university through a market of teachers shows that the book of hours could change the influence of Christianity across the continent through the exchange during massive social interaction.
The influence of a market through networking also had the potential to increase the trade of certain goods between certain parties. Time was certainly a valuable commodity, just as much then as it is today, and with a person’s book of hours, he or she could record names and places of certain good as well as which transactions went more smoothly than others. Notes in a book of hours, “together with such commercial documents as account sheets, travel diaries, manuals of commercial practice, and the letters of exchange” (Le Goff, 35) enabled both parties in an exchange to spread the word of good service or failure to pay. This commercial aspect of social networking could either promote or discourage sales, both from a certain vendor to a certain client.
The idea of money during the Middle Ages threatened the values of Christianity that the Catholic Church worked so hard to spread. While the pursuers of wealth are often led astray, according to the Bible, the need for food remained a necessity. However, in selling any type of good, tithing to the Catholic Church became a responsibility, and the law of supply and demand came into effect. Goods require materials, and if there is a high demand and a low supply, those materials increase in price. However, if a vendor is only able to make one craft or good, he or she is rather limited and can lose money when the materials are not affordable and the craft cannot be made. In order to obtain higher priced materials to produce crafts, vendors could contact a usurer for a loan. These loans were often associated with an extremely high rate of interest. Social networking enabled usurers to inform others of debts owed by certain customers as well as learn the reputation of potential customers. Usury became rather abused during the Middle Ages with the high cost of living as well as the desire to have a book of hours worth showing. “Usury denotes a multiplicity of practices, thus complicating any distinction between the lawful and unlawful transactions” (Le Goff, Your Money or Your Life, 17), and the difference between usury and interest is rather slight—interest relies on the exchange of money for goods whereas usury relies on the exchange of money for more money. The multiple facets of usury have perpetuated and promoted the idea that money is the root of all evil. While the borrower needs the money for necessities, or so one can assume, the lender, or usurer, then takes advantage of the borrower for he only sees the lending of money as more money in return. On the other side, borrowers could work multiple markets in which usurers work by using the social networking system to find the lenders that will offer higher loan amounts or even the lenders with lower interest rates. Businesses have also used social networking as a means of advertisement. In medieval markets, the presentation and word of mouth passage of information played an important part of a vendor’s career. Today, businesses can use social networking sites for advertising as well as to investigate potential employees (just as usurers could use the social network of markets to investigate potential customers).
The connections made through these social networks were not just between buyers and sellers, but also between peasants and lords. If any two peasants were “on the same land contract, or…shared the feudal lord, for example, would be considered…like Facebook ‘friends’” (Brumfiel) by today’s standards. A study of medieval landholding documents showed that the lords of the society had many more “friends” than the peasants in the same area, but some peasants were rather well connected to others outside of their own village, perhaps through the markets. These markets and connections formed throughout villages created relationships that otherwise would not have been formed. As with the usurers, information could be obtained by anyone about anyone by speaking to the people with the proper connections. These connections could either promote or ruin a person’s reputation. The derogatory remarks are considered gossip in today’s society. In the Middle Ages, gossip was an important part of life as it “gives us a fighting chance to decode the motives and intentions of people who affect the quality of our lives” (Scott, 5). This networking tool has not changed much throughout the centuries, although the connotation of gossip has changed. The medieval use for gossip was the only means for information to travel—they did not have Google searches to do background checks and reviews for vendors, so people relied on each other to find out about certain goods, vendors, or even the romantic escapades of love interests. “Women network to find out if their prospective lovers are uninvolved” (Scott, 7), whereas usurers may network to find out which customers are good on their word for repayment, and consumers network to find the best goods for the best prices. The use of networking as a means of connection for information has remained the same throughout the ages—today, our social networking has become less social because we can check the status of someone’s relationship by going to his personal profile, credit checks are available online, and there are countless websites with reviews for products and sellers. (use Groebner here)
The creation of a social network structure relies on “the importance of founders…and how the environment at founding…influences cohorts” (Marquis, 657). Every structure, whether tangible or not, relies on some sort of foundation, which, in turn, relies on founders. The founders of social networking are difficult to pin down to any one group of people, but the Catholic Church can be considered a driving force, at the very least. The environment in which social networking became so widespread was the Catholic Church, beginning with the prayer schedules which would eventually turn into the book of hours. This schedule of prayers was divided into segments in which a person was to say a certain prayer for certain times of the day, as well as certain days of the week, and even seasons of the year. Because there were few choices in religion during the Middle Ages, Catholicism ruled Europe as the religion of choice, and the name of this book is a result of “eight hours made up the liturgical, or devotional, day” (Hypertext Book of Hours). When the book of hours fell out of fashion, the right-thinkers of the Catholic Church found a new way to pray—the rosary. Rather than the illustrations within the book of hours to give a schedule of prayer, the rosary gives the schedule of prayer as a set of beads. However, with the more private rosary prayer, the social networking system had to adapt in order to keep people connected, but after King Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, the social networking system had already been instated in the form of markets, causing the book of hours to be obsolete and unnecessary for such communications. “While scholars may not have explicitly studied the lingering effect of founding conditions on network structures, they have described how historical conditions influence networking and have shown that network patterns, once established, are remarkably persistent.” (Marquis, 659), and the use of books of hours are a perfect example. Because the Catholic Church was the basis for the book of hours, the networking patterns set forth remained very similar throughout the ages, even through today. Just as with a book of hours, a person today can write notes (in the form of a weblog entry), remember important dates (such as birthdates and anniversaries), and autograph each other’s pages (in the form of wall posts). However, one major difference between a book of hours and a website is that websites have almost unlimited capacity whereas the books, being a tangible object, are more difficult to expand.
The Giac Book of Hours belonged to Louis de Giac’s wife Jeanne de Peschin. The research done with this particular specimen, as well as with the Cambridge Book of Hours, gives a much deeper insight to the uses of the book of hours on a personal level as opposed to the overall perception. The details on the artwork in the Giac Book of Hours is much less than that of the Cambridge Book of Hours, indicating that the owners of the Cambridge book were of a higher social status and were thus able to afford more detailed art. However, “the style [of the artwork in both books] is so similar even in the smallest details that we can be certain it is a work in a late stage of development produced in the same workshop” (Heimann, 84). During the Middle Ages, the more detailed the artwork indicated wealth, but in today’s society, a more complicated personal website layout does not indicate anything more than insight into one’s personality. There are HTML layouts for almost any interest, and if one does not find a suitable layout, the tools are available online to create a unique one. This similarity between a physical book as an expression of oneself is an archaic twin to the self-expression on one’s own weblog. The standards of living in the Middle Ages also indicated a certain level of wealth for those owners of books of hours. Members of the lower-class, the peasants, were often illiterate and used goods out of necessity rather than for profit. A book of hours would be impractical for a peasant not only because of the lack of practical use, except for fire kindling, but because of the lack of skills to use the book of hours. Based on this assumption, the owners of both the Giac Book of Hours and the Cambridge Book of Hours were of a higher status. “Rather than undermining such real-time forms of association, as was prognosticated by some champions of life online, connectivity, the authors [Daniel Miller and Don Slater] contend, is strengthening and extending more traditional social forms like families,” (Latham, 104), which can be applied to the familial values of medieval life. Peasants were of the working class, so most social interaction for peasants involved their own family members. As Brumfiel pointed out, the “Facebook friends” that peasants had were mostly their own relatives and the occasional lord. However, the term “friend” in this sense is very loose—the only connection these so-called friends had to one another was on a piece of paper; any actual contact between lords and peasants was minimal.
Another technological descendent of the book of hours is the ereader. Physically, it is more similar to the book of hours because it is, quite literally, a book. Ereaders come in a variety of styles and colors, which can then be extended to the outer coverings. Perhaps the most similar aspect of the ereader to the book of hours is that the Bible itself can be carried around, complete with a built in dictionary and the capability to take notes. Ereaders can also be important social networking tools because it sparks a conversation as well as indicate some level of wealth, and some even enable social networking. As time progresses, people are becoming more and more able to converse, both verbally, visually, and with the written word, about many different topics. Unlike desktop and laptop computers, ereaders and even smart-phones are becoming the way of communication. With the latest portable technology of tablet computers taking the place of laptop computers (which, to some extent, took the place of desktop computers), social networking is becoming more and more a part of everyday life—so much so that most people claim that they would be unable to live without access to their email (or Facebook or any other means of electronic communication). The evolution of the book of hours can also be seen in the differences between the Giac and Cambridge Books of Hours. Throughout time, with practice and a certain amount of money for the time entered, the artwork became easier to do, and people wanted more individualized prints for their books of hours. The Cambridge book seems to be “the logical outcome of the Giac MS” and is believed to have been produced ten to twenty years after the Giac book. The difference between the Giac Book of Hours and the Cambridge Book of hours can be compared to the Microsoft Windows 95 program and the Windows Vista program—they are visibly related, but the latter is better formatted.
Surprisingly, the medieval book of hours is not the first of its kind, as many people would believe. A manuscript for an Egyptian prayer book was reported in 1954, although the prayers are not to the Christian God but rather to the Egyptian god Osiris. This manuscript details at least nine hours of prayer, perhaps up to twelve, although portions of the papyrus are damaged and unable to be translated. While this particular prayer schedule “seems to have been to call upon every agency, divine or not, which could in anyway exercise a favourable influence on Egypt and its inhabitants” (Faulkner, 36), the papyrus prayer manual also lists the major cities of worship to Osiris, indicating some sort of social networking. Without networking, worshippers of Osiris would not have a centralized worship site, or altar, because the network creates the ability to decide upon a central site. Another indication of social networking within the Egyptian Book of Hours is the reference to the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, “the royal consorts, the kings’ mothers, the kings’ children, peasants, nobles, foreigners, travelers, as well as apparently the names of other functionaries” (Faulkner, 39). Without social networking, the information contained in these prayers would remain the same from the very first prayer schedule to the very last, but because the names of peasants are included, it is likely that some sort of information was being communicated from both the upper and lower parts of Egypt, and it is possible that this prayer schedule in itself was a way to communicate the changes in kings as well as births of heirs to fellow worshippers and to preserve the changes for future generations.
The mentality about social networks has definitely changed over the past five hundred years. The term “social networking” itself has become so ingrained into our unconscious memory that checking emails or updating statuses has become second nature. The medieval notion of social networking was much simpler—it consisted of basic gossip for general, and while today’s social networking enables and enhances gossip to the point where a person no longer needs to actually speak to another about any given situation because they can just as easily check the status update or run a quick search on a search engine. In the Middle Ages, the actual network to which a person belonged was determined by the social interactions—in today’s society, a person can be “friends” with anyone and everyone, regardless of the connection (some pages even say, “no random friend requests” to deter those wanting to appear more popular) or lack thereof. In fact, the creation of social networking sites in the early 2000s consisted of, in one case, meeting attractive females or to promote the musical endeavors of performing artists. However, the stereotype of the typical social networking site user has changed over the past few years. Each particular site, or even type of site, has its own stigma. Facebook was originally for college students, until it was changed to where a school email was no longer required to create an account—now, it has turned into somewhat of an online gaming site for users to plant crops and build farms. MySpace took the reins of social networking from Facebook (and then lost them back to Facebook) for a few years because it was open to everyone, but more recently, the general user of MySpace is the pre-teen and teenage crowd. Weblogs draw in many different users as well as subscribers—they are intended to be an outlet for any type of creativity or frustration that one can imagine. Many of them offer reviews of products and sites, while others give offerings of creative endeavors for others to review. Each of these sites, or types of sites, offer the same thing as the book of hours offered to the people of the Middle Ages—an expression of personality, a way to take notes, and a way to remember people and places.
Social networking has changed a lot since the inception of the book of hours. Rather than being a way for the laymen to be more like the clergy of the Catholic Church, it is now a way to socialize for the mere entertainment and company of others. Technology is ever changing, and the use of it will change and adapt as time passes.