Archive for the ‘08. Impermanent History’ Category

History is History !

November 22, 2007

Where are these words going ?  And should I even bother to write them ?  These are just a few of the questions that I continually ask myself when reading and/or writing on the Internet.  Now I know these words will be here today, tomorrow, maybe even next year – but when I need them most will they still be found ?  For example, I used to keep a long and exhausted number of bookmarks on my computer.  Nothing especially important, but I had managed to keep all my favorite websites and documents in one tidy folder.  In fact, I grew to love file management on my computer – so neat and organized, and it takes up no physical space.  Ah, what an age we live in.   Seemed like all was going fine, right ?  Well it turns out that ignorance is bliss after all.  I was perusing that very same bookmarks folder the other day when I hit a link only to find that “page cannot be found.”  Arg. 

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 Oh dread.  How will I ever be able to cook that peanut butter and crocodile casserole now ?  The page was down, lost, and gone forever.

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big issue to you, but let’s look at things on a grander scale.  With each and every passing day more and more of the world’s history is being transferred to electronic media, and most of it ends up on the Internet.  Now at first I thought this was a terrific idea as well.  There are many benefits to be had from this transition after all.  But then I started to think about the long run.  If everything is put onto the Internet, and the Internet is a place of impermanence – face it, it is continually changing every day – then what will become of our history ? 

Columnist and jazz critic Fred Kaplan echoes my concern when he states that “the short shelf life of electronic documents poses a serious problem for historians” (Kaplan, 119) not to mention anyone else who preserves or traces our civilizations’ footsteps.  Kaplan further states that “historical narratives can be viewed as a collective identity:  We discover or rediscover who we are by studying and reflecting on what we did.  We define ourselves as a people or as a culture by referring to the historical record” (Kaplan, 119). 

I asked earlier when I need words the most will they still be found.  According to Kaplan they might not be found at all.  “The new, paperless world has encouraged a general carelessness in official record-keeping” (Kaplan, 120).    It’s a scary scenario to imagine.  The Internet culture has abandoned the idea of the past.  The past is yesterday, only the future resides now, and the future is today.  We are turning the page on our histories and our cultures, and if this rate keeps up soon enough there will be no more pages to turn.

 Now you can blow me off in an instant – or with an instant-message – but all I really need to do is to ask you when was the last time you actually wrote a memo or a letter ?

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Here, you can borrow my pen, because writing will never be forbidden.

James