The Wonder of the Modern Age

Two things this week have got me thinking about history in the future. The first was an excellent seminar that I attended for work presented by the Guardian Professional Network. The purpose of the class was to learn how to grow online audiences through social media. The imprint that I was left with was just the sheer scale of social media and at once both amazing and terrifying these tools are. I am sure social media buffs know about Socialnomics already but as a social media trainee, I was fascinated by the facts that were demonstrated in their short videos on YouTube –
The second thing that got my synapses firing was a short conversation that I had with my friend in the States. Whilst we were both bemoaning the duties of Christmas and our inability to write anymore, he commented that “…no one will accidentally stumble upon my email messages in 50 years. I wonder how much individual history we will lose due to everything being electronic.”
These two combined facts have lead me to think about how history will be represented in the future as a result of the use of social media, the internet and email.

In some respects, I imagine that the conversations on Twitter should not be recorded or archived anywhere because they are the modern equivalent of a conversation and unless someone was taking notes in the past, conversations are not a ready source for researchers and historians. Anyone with an interest in history knows that sources can be hard to come by and even notes from parish meetings to oral histories do not necessarily give unbiased views; everything is tainted by interpretation.
However, on the other hand, the access to such a vast number of conversations with links and networks is invaluable. I have attended seminars, concerts and exhibitions that I would not have even known about were it not for twitter, facebook and youtube. But my question is whether social media will change the way we research history in the future and of course, I cannot answer this in the present.
I see research as dynamic and constantly evolving given the ideas of the time and the tools available. As historians it feels like there is a divide between learning the traditional archival methods and embracing the new innovations for example the digitised sources that are increasingly available.

I feel that there are a lot of questions that arise when thinking about the study of history in the future and whilst I maintain that history itself is invaluable as a means of learning about the future, perhaps now is the time to use the future to learn about the past as well.


One response to “The Wonder of the Modern Age

  1. An issue related to this has been occupying my mind for the last week or so. I came upon a cache of family cassette tapes: some recorded in 1966 and some from 1982. Family members singing, talking, acting, laughing. The quality is awful and they are in a medium that hardly anyone can access any more. I can only listen to them in the car! Some of them have extraneous stuff on them- extracts from random radio programmes, the occasional Pick of the Pops recording- and it’s tempting, when I get them transferred to something usable, to take those bits out and leave only the material of family interest. And yet, as historians, who does not relish the randomness of comments in margins, the serendipity of an interesting classified advertisement next to the newspaper article we had aimed for in the first place, the stains, the juxtapositions, the very muddlement of primary resources.
    I’m leaving it all. Let the future listeners decide what is important to them. It may not be the same as was important to us, but who are we to say? We don’t have the vantage point of the distance of years.

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