Fast Company: American Revolution’s Pamphleteers, Today’s Bloggers and Twitterers

The celebration of our country’s independence this past weekend made the harrowing Twitter and blog posts of the resistance movement in Iran even more poignant. As they continue to challenge the legitimacy of that country’s elections and crack the foundation of the theocratic regime, it’s important to remember the role of “social media” in our own painful, violent birth. Iran’s bloggers and Twitterers are the modern-day offspring of the American Revolution’s pamphleteers.

More than 230 years ago, ordinary citizens across the colonies printed and distributed the passionate words of “amateur” writers to shape public opinion and galvanize the independence movement virally. Like the Iranians, these colonial social media pioneers faced violent suppression from a powerful ruling class.  But their simple pamphlets proved to be even more powerful.  They offer hope not only to the courageous Iranians, but to anyone interested in harnessing the collective for change.

My grandmother first introduced me to the bravery of the American Revolution’s pamphleteers through stories about one of my ancestors, Samuel Loudon.  In addition to publishing the newspaper The New York Packet, he was part of the underground network that printed and distributed pro-independence pamphlets This included the a popular response to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense for which, legend has it, he was tarred and feathered.

This description of pamphleteering from 1940 by Homer Calkin for The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, could be about the blogs of today, “From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century the pamphlet was the chief instrument to carry one’s ideas to the public…The pamphlet, forerunner to the newspaper, was well adapted to this use because it was small and cheap and could reach ‘a larger audience than the orator in the House of Commons.’”

These childhood tales of how Samuel Loudon’s pamphlets changed the world may have helped me recognize the potential of blogging in early 2006 when I started my Work+Life Fit blog, way before most people even knew what a blog was.  At the time, I was frustrated.  For more than a decade, I’d been part of a vibrant, dynamic field that helped organizations and individuals partner to flexibly and creatively manage work and life.  Yet the broader world had no idea the field existed much less how our work could help them. I wanted to change that.

Almost four years later, both my original blog as well as my expert blog for Fast Company have exceeded my expectations in terms of helping to rethink work, life and business. Without fail, after every post, at least one person contacts me to say, “That made a difference.”  Huge.  And a few of my long time work+life colleagues have started excellent blogs including Families and Work Institute’s blog, Kathie Lingle’s Blog at the Alliance for Work Life Progress, and the Sloan Work and Family Network.  Further expanding the community.

Now, Twitter.  It’s been six months since I joined Twitter (@caliyost), and I’m equally as impressed by its power to share information, create community and drive change.  Tweeting for the pamphleteers of the Revolution would have meant printing and distributing eight to ten short 140 character statements daily.  Impossible.  But that’s what’s different about Twitter—it’s quick. It’s fast. It’s real-time.  It doesn’t replace the thoughtful, longer form writing of a blog post.  Twitter augments it by allowing you to: (Click here for more)