Twitter and Stuff

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I'm working with two colleagues in mapping old Pomo trails and villages. The northern edge of Pomo country, in Mendocino County, bumps up against the southern edge of the Yuki. These two groups spoke two entirely different languages, as different as Mandarin Chinese would be to Italian. Historically, these two groups didn't get along well, and would sometimes fight. My colleagues and I have a theory that we should be able to see this discord in the archaeology -- they're probably not trading a lot with each other.
There's one catch, though. In between the Yuki and the Pomo are the Cahto -- they speak a different language still. The Cahto seemed to have gotten along with all of their neighbors. This makes things messy for us; they're trading with everyone, and so the stuff  -- beads, arrowheads, obsidian -- flow back and forth, even between groups that don't get along. Cahto baskets look like Yuki baskets; Cahto ceremony resembles Pomo ceremony, and so on. There's a blending of these cultures, with Cahto as a buffer.
Archaeologists and anthropologists have always been fascinated with how culture and knowledge are transmitted from one group to another. I thought of this when I heard Terri Gross's interview with Twitter founder Biz Stone. He spoke of envisioning Twitter as communication the way schools of fish swim, where groups of people could exchange ideas and move together almost simultaneously.
Our species has never been able to do this before on this scale, this sharing of thought and purpose so quickly, through so many. The recent events in the Middle East indicate the power of these tools. Just as economists are watching how online gaming communities build virtual economies, anthropologists are starting to watch how we build new cultures through this new way of interaction. As an archaeologist, I'm going to have to wait my turn to see how this plays out in our stuff, but my guess is, it's going to be blurry, messy, and exciting as hell.
With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.