I sometimes wonder what the digital revolution will mean for the perception of history by future generations. Bits are both the most transient of things (because an electric spark in the wrong place can wipe them out forever) and the most eternal of things (because they are effortless to copy.) This simply means that we must choose to save all the bits we scribble in a way we can easily interpret and voila! Future generations will have access to all the unvarnished primary sources about lives great and small that they will ever wish to look at.
Sadly, this is an ideal that is not even close to being achieved in practice. Organizations like the government have document retention policies which allow the deletion of key information in mere months or years after such data is created. There is even active incentives for the tidy removal of data; I seem to recall that Ollie North, John Poindexter, or one of the other Iran-Contra bozos of the late 1980’s was caught because e-mail had not been fully deleted… and we can’t have that sort of thing happening again. No, it is a sad thing that all the type-written memos and letters that historians have come to depend on to learn the straight dope about what was going on during, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis, will not be available to future historians seeking to understand what was really going on immediately following 9/11. No, all that information will probably be wiped off of a hard disk in the next few years.
In another sense, historians will have a field day. I shudder to think about the kind of diverse information that historians will have about everyday folks that is completely missing from the study of past lives. With the arrival of the Net, the Web, and the Blogsphere, everyone now gets a chance to walk up to the mike and say his or her peace. Is most of what’s said worth hearing? That’s debatable, but if you want to know what people are thinking or doing, an archive of the Net and related services can tell you a lot about what is going on.
This is already happening. A case in point: I recently discovered an archive of information about the contents of the Internet ten years ago. In it, I was able to find a personal ad I posted in early 1994. Here is its:
I thought write a little post saying that I’d be interested in meeting a few single women, making a few net friendships, and/or maybe meeting that someone special (c’mon, I know you are out there somewhere).
I’m a SWM, 24, just south of [region removed to protect the innocent]. I’m6’0″, dark brown hair, gray eyes. In regard to my looks, I may not beRichard Gere, but I’m certainly not Richard Nixon. I enjoy cooking,eating, dancing, film, jogging and working out. I’m very taken withmusic of most kinds (Randy Travis and Erasure don’t do it for me.) andlisten about 25 hours a day. I don’t believe in political correctness.I’m very curious about society and this whole difference between thesexes thing. I like philosophy and contemplating some of the bigquestions every now and then. I like going out either to dance, seebands, or just to talk. I’ve been wanting to play more pool or dartslately or maybe get out more with the mountain bike. I can also dealwith quiet dinners and nights at home.
Now, you ask, what am I looking for? I’m looking to meet or talk to a few S*F’s about my age (20 – 30) with some interests beyond the Internet. Meeting would always be great, but if you’re not in [region removed to hide the guilty], I love to talk.
What can we talk about: we can exchange stories or poetry, views of life, views on the universe, the twisted nature of the bar scene, vegetarianism, why people color their hair blue, history, philosophy, sex, drugs, rock and roll, or anything you want to talk about, just as long as it’s not just repeated descriptions of the weather.
So, if any of this sounds interesting, drop me a line. I lookforward to hearing from you.
If you had told me then that I would be able to locate this stuff in less that 15 minutes of searching, I probably would have thought the idea a little odd… to say the least.