The First Social Network ─ Baseball Cards
August 20, 2012
by William Szczepanek
Baseball cards in the 1950s were a cultural phenomenon. They were the backbone of a network that connected millions of kids to one another. They could be considered the first social network for I can't think of another product that united so many people in a common interest. Okay, maybe that's a stretch. The biggest difference between baseball cards and today's social networks like Facebook is that baseball cards actually brought kids together face-to-face in social situations that involved talking, playing, trading, envying and bragging, good and bad. Many BFF's first met over a pack of baseball cards. It is a common interest that could be enjoyed by both rich and poor, together. The kids would often LOL, but very seldom were comments like WTF made. I think kids back then had more class and maybe their parents did also.
Today's social networks and even games foster a remoteness that extracts the human aspect of social networking that is the basis for learned social skills. Sure kids still go to school and meet face to face and schools have all kinds of group projects that force kids together, and there all kinds of after school activities that bring kids together, but so much of it is structured by adults that independent social interaction is stifled. It seems like more kids today have social behavioral problems than years ago and much more bullying exists today. Though these types of behavior existed in the past, the kids seemed to have a better handle on how to handle the situations and learned from the experiences. The lack of discipline in schools and the lack of support for teachers by parents today appears to be a contributing factor.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like Facebook and have exchanged posts with many amazing people who I would not have met otherwise. I also like video games, though I do think that the violent slant of most games needs to be balanced with games that help kids to think about more than killing other people. I do think that over time the anti-social aspects of many of these new and innovative ways of communicating will develop rules of their own and a certain set of propriety will be established that seems to be missing now.
While kids still collect things today like Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars and Pokemon cards it is not so widespread as to pull them together in a common interest. Baseball cards were magical in that respect and it is a hobby that has had its day. I just hope something comes along that can provide the same sense of well being and camaraderie. Maybe I'll Google that or see if there are any Facebook pages that can help me out.