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The Flinging of Notes

Anyone interested in the relations between men and women (or any number of other topics) can get great pleasure from the day-by-day online version of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. It’s a soap opera. Especially at this moment (9 November 1668) and for the last few weeks (that is, 343 years ago).

If you’re not up to date, Sam’s wife caught him in flagrante with her 17-year-old maid, Deborah Willet. He wasn’t sure exactly how much she saw. At one point he confessed to the embracing but denied the kissing. Or the other way around.

In today’s episode, messages are exchanged:

[quote]Up, and I did by a little note which I flung to Deb. advise her that I did continue to deny that ever I kissed her, and so she might govern herself … and as I bid her returned me the note, flinging it to me in passing by. And so I abroad by coach … [/quote]

The way my mind tends to ramble, what most fascinates me is the flinging of the note. This is the available technology for exchanging messages. No one is texting, “Need 2 C U, Deb!” I know, it’s obvious. But it’s not trivial.

When I was writing about Newton, I kept wanting to say: “By the way, dear reader, what if he’d had e-mail? What if he’d had a photocopier? For that matter, what if he’d had electric light?”


  1. marian morgan says

    I will put a copy of this in the back of “Information” – as just another form of!!

  2. I loved your book and have been telling my friends about it. I kept thinking the same thing throughout the first part.

    “Can you believe how simple technology was? They had to WAIT. THEY HAD TO WAIT!”

  3. Bryce says

    Pepys is a bit obscure. I only know him from an ex-libris copy of his diaries my sister gave me. Reading his entries, you can almost imagine him as a blogger.. Then again, what if he’d also (or conversely) had 21st century English to write his journal entries?

  4. Bryce says

    To clarify, how would contemporary English affect the encoding of the information? Also, is it possible to calculate the encoding value of any particular language or is it exclusively dependent on the information being encoded and the aspect of encoding that most needs to be preserved (ie redundancy vs encryption vs compression)?

  5. Yes, Pepys is a wonderful soap opera, but at the same time, he also provides a view into a period from which the Royal Navy would grow to be the world’s largest corporate endeavor.

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