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The Social History of Valentine’s Day

In General GUI on February 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

Valentine’s day is a great example of how advances in communication technology can be anti-social. I’m not referring to the Internets here, but to postal technology.

Wikipedia: “In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called ‘mechanical valentines,’ and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.”

While some might see mechanically produced, racy verse as a sign of liberation from Victorian shackles, social dynamics present a different picture. Mass duplication and postal anonymity defeat the purpose in most mating rituals: displaying one’s capabilities and commitment. In modern society, this can sometimes be displayed by the size of the gift. But if you play that card, don’t be surprised if your love runs off with an impoverished poet.

As for the original ban on marriage Roman emperor Claudius is credited with, you might want to read this. The original ban probably refers to a ban on marriages between Roman soldiers, sometimes as young as 16, and province residents – known in modern day as undocumented immigrants.

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