The 18th-Century Patron Saint of Live Tweeting

By Alexis C. Madrigal
While it's easy to wonder if the always-on, quick-post tools of now have eroded our expectations of privacy, art critic Ari Messer demonstrates at The Rumpus that being forced to live out loud is at least as old as Samuel Johnson. 

James Boswell, became Johnson's tireless biographer, or at least stenographer. As the two men grew closer together, Boswell took it upon himself to -- and this is an 18th century word -- journalize Johnson's every saying. 

It wasn't long before Boswell was writing down absolutely everything that Johnson said, sometimes with actual paper and pen, sometimes by recall, and this journalizing began to spark public outcry, cartoons of Boswell as a sycophant hungry for quotes at dinner parties, "anonymous" letters of moral outrage... 
Soon Johnson was even altering his own speech, live-editing his own phrases to make them sound more "Johnsonian." Commenting on a play, Johnson once said, "It has not wit enough to keep it sweet," then gave a cancel-that expression and changed this saying to, "It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrification." Johnson greatly distrusted fame and public opinion, and would make such re-statements with a certain humor, but Boswell ate them up. His great talent seems to have been an ability to simultaneously miss the joke and write it down.
So, recall James Boswell the next time you go to a conference and watch some haggard blogger journalizing 120-character quote after 120-character quote from the eminent figure on stage.

Update 4:36 PST: Thanks to reader Celia, I cleared up some confusion on my part about Boswell's first name.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/07/the-18th-century-patron-saint-of-live-tweeting/59585/