I want to say right from the start that I am not against social networking, not at all. In fact I use it all the time. I blog, tweet and FB my ‘friends’ about inane facts of my life or random thoughts, just like the best of them. I eliminate my capitals, forget about spelling and go for the quick and dirty message hoping that I am forgiven for thick thumbed blackberry texting. The technology we use to tell our world, and the world, our ‘news’ is newish unto itself, but what we are saying, and the fact that we care to do so at all is not.
The other week I stumbled across the Vancouver Sun’s ‘Society’ pages of 1937-1940 while I was researching both trivial and significant historic details for my novel. I actually couldn’t miss them as this section in the paper was not one page but two and sometimes three pages. There were photos of ‘bride-elect’ the most popular couple feted again, and the details of who was pouring tea at the latest shower. The details in which these were written fascinated me. ..
Miss Patsy Rand Again Feted
Another pre-nuptial party honouring Miss Patsy Rand, popular bride-elect took place this afternoon when Mrs. E. R. Taylor entertained at her home on Forth-ninth Avenue.
Deep pink roses mingling with silvery metallic sprays of leaves in a silver filigreed bowl flanked by ivory tapers in a Sheffield candelabra formed the centerpiece at the teatable, graced by a fine Venetian lace cloth.
Mrs. Jack Larsen presided at the urns, while serving the guests were Mrs. C. Proske, Miss Eileen Thain and Miss Marjorie Brown.
Others dropping in for tea were Mrs. A. O’Meara, the hostess’ mother , who recently arrived from the Capital: Mrs. Clarke Markle, Mrs. Thorlief Larsen, Mrs. John Hawkins, Mrs. de Ridder, Mrs. T. H. Rand, Miss Jane Kirkland and Miss Mavis Barber. (The Vancouver Sun, Friday December 3, 1937, page. 10)
It is interesting to see for a fact that a woman had her own name, prior to marriage, but loses both first and last names once she was wed. It was very common at the time to take on the husband’s identity when using formal greetings, but where would that put someone like me. If I were Mrs. Grayson Kirk (names changed to protect the innocent), but in fact I am an academic, would I then be come Dr. Grayson Kirk, or simply ignore one’s academic standing and stick with the wife title as Mrs. Grayson Kirk? But since my husband is not a Dr, or an M.D., or a Ph.D, but an M.Arch., wouldn’t adding a Dr. the title be misleading? Or, perhaps we can suppose that most women at the time did not have titles that were separate from their husbands, and so this problem did not occur, and when it did it was not so often to become a problem.
That was a minor aside; my primary point is the detail with which this feting is described. Do we really need to know about the silvery sprays of foliage nestled within the silver filigreed bowl? This was society news! As was an entire piece also printed on December, 3, 1937, “Mrs. J. W. Macfarlane has taken up residence at ‘Parkside.” This reads more like a FB update, or a tweet. It certainly has few enough characters to qualify. Did the people of Vancouver really need to know that, “Mrs. Mackenzie Matheson is leaving Saturday for New York whence she will sail for Stockholm to visit her son-in-law and daughter Dr. and Mrs. Torsten Frey,” or “Mr. And Mrs. T. Spencer have returned to ‘Westdeane’ from a several days stay in Victoria,” (The Vancouver Sun, December 3, 1937, page. 10).
I have copied several pages of Society news from that era for my casual perusal with my new progressive lenses (very tiny print, very aging eyes). It gives me insight to the fashion, the concerns, and the activities of the social ‘elite,’ something I would otherwise know little about. But a friend of mine, who is a senior to my by a few years, told me that this type of writing continued in Vancouver until the mid-1960! This was not a pre-war fascination.
It seems that for a while, possibly a span of twenty to thirty years, news filled the pages of the papers, things that were worthy of print and public attention. Not that ‘news’ didn’t also occur in the earlier or subsequent pages, but it was also buffered by the ‘social’ gossip that went well beyond community announcements, and fund-raising banquets, that can also make up relevant news content.
And so I ask, have we returned to the tweet and twitter, to friend or de-friend, to fan or ignore of this earlier era, but with our new fangled technology? What is worthy of sharing with the world? To what purpose are we putting the details of our lives for public consumption? What has changed from this earlier version of twittering and FBing, is the seemingly egalitarian format of the message. We no longer need to belong to the social elite to be able to tell everyone how we are decorating our homes, our latest renovation, where we are living, when we shall be returning from our vacation, and with whom we were visiting. We can inundate the world with these bits of detail. How fun—we have returned to the era of the trivial.
Oh, and if you leave a comment and I don’t reply right away it is because I during the next few days I will be attending The Olympic Torch run down west 10th avenue, escorting my children to and from school, teaching some fortunate students for a few hours and conducting a thorough cleanse of my 1970s vintage vinyl-sided home, (if you so cared to see you could find on Google street-map… and if you look carefully through the living room window, you will notice that my chicken painting is askew; be rest assured, I have since straightened it.)
One last entry:
At a recent 70th birthday fete for popular sprightly couple, daughter-in-law and son of the feted couple were seen cutting up the floor. She wore a peacock broach made by a local Vancouver artisan attached clipped smartly to the strap of her vintage cocktail dress seen here posed with her youngest son who is proud of all his missing teeth. (all names have been removed again to protect the innocent)
Okay, call me trivial… 🙂