October 5, 2012

Some years ago when we were on holiday in Northumberland we visited the Vindolanda Roman fort. It’s a fascinating site, where the archeologists are still uncovering the history of Roman life in Britain. It brings home just how many things the Romans did do for us. When it was built in the 1700s, the Landmark Trust property we were staying in didn’t have lighting and heating and still has a (very cold) heather roof. When Vindolanda was built on the very edge of the Roman empire nearly 2000 years before, they had central heating and bath houses.


The thing that’s unique about Vindolanda is the quantity of the hand-written tablets found there. These are the oldest surviving hand-written documents in Britain and include personal letters as well as records of military matters. Those slips, telling stories of daily life in Roman Britain allow us to make a real connection to the people who wrote them. We have common experiences with the people who wrote these invitations to birthday parties…

“On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us”

or gave us details of their underwear…

“I have sent you pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”

One of the complaints levelled at Twitter is that it largely consists of posts about trivia such as what people have for meals. It’s become a bit of a recurring theme here that I think of services like Twitter as the commonplace books of our time — a journal or archive of things that interest us. While these may be individually trivial and mundane, the process of aggregation gives them a value above this and reflects the times we live in.


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