Matter Chatter

The Resurrection of the Turkish Coffeehouse (in 140 characters or less)

While mainstream media takes up a fair amount of mindshare in our society, and certainly in my profession, it is, by no means, the most important avenue of influence. In fact, mass media is a fairly new phenomenon. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that national news, syndications, and bureaus started to take shape. Since that time, our eyes and ears have been focused on the nightly news, and the slick magazines, and the daily newspapers, and now their websites, with an ever-trusting reliance on the producers and editors of these outlets to tell us what’s important.

Before the rise of these national news outlets, however, we took it upon ourselves to decide what was important by engaging in spirited neighborhood discussions. One merely walked to the local coffee house, a concept introduced to America by the thousands of Greeks, Turks, and Armenians fleeing the Ottoman Empire. The neighborhood coffee house became the center of business news, thoughts, and ideas. In fact, the Tontine Coffee House, founded in 1793, was the original location for the New York Stock Exchange.

It was the coffee house, and not a national newspaper, network news, or syndicated content, where you learned what mattered, and equally important, where you shared a point of view on what mattered. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, understood the value of a public forum such as this. He took his campaigns to the people, the court of public opinion, and not the local editor. His idea was simple: rally enough people, reach enough coffee houses, and the newspapers will take notice.

While most of the Turkish coffee houses are gone, there is still a place for the immediate and spirited sharing of news, thoughts, and ideas. It’s called Twitter. Yup, that Twitter: home to the minutia of overrated actors and boy bands. But at 500 million users, it’s also the local Turkish coffee house, where people around the world can freely chat in never-ending discussions about thousands of topics, like why Americans should embrace rugby, or ways to encourage reading in children, or exposing environmental villains, or giving props to folks trying to make a difference.

On Twitter, there are no editors or producers deciding what topics you should care about, and that’s a powerful thing. So, in fact, Twitter is not all that new a concept. It’s simply the Turkish coffeehouse redux.

@DarlingInDamascus the Constantinople camel races were epic!

You get the idea.