I see myself as an historian, if someone who has an undergrad degree in history can call themselves that, but the one thing I’m most worried about is how social media is so impermanent. Except for the Library of Congress saving all of the US tweets, there is nothing that I know of that is saving anything that is going on in social media, words and photos, here today gone tomorrow! The great diarists of old: Samuel Pepys, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anne Frank, would today be blog writers. Their works would be read by just as many people or more but, would anyone be able to read them in 60, 100, or 200 years from now if they were written on social media or stored in the Cloud?Anne Frank’s works would have never been read if she had had a computer. Her father, after surviving the Nazi concentration camps, would not have had her password to unlock her diary from the Cloud. The work would be lost in a digital limbo for eternity, for the lack of a few keystrokes. That is the kind of scenario that I’m seeing today. All the great insights and feelings people put out into the digital world someday being lost.
The “hard copy” has been a staple of human writing for millennia, whether that be clay tablet, wax tablet, papyrus, or paper, it was somewhat of a permanent thing and because of that we have had a small window to the lives of our ancestors. I’m not saying that everything a person writes is gold and has to be printed out. What I am saying is that we should look more closely at what we receive from people and save a few things on paper for the next generations. Someday I would like to see letters from the front special on PBS from our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, like the ones from the Civil War through Vietnam, but were any of the emails they sent ever saved by their families?
One of the most difficult things to find out in doing historical research is find out the thoughts and actions of the average person. If you are famous there will always someone there to keep track of what you said, did, and ask you about your thoughts on a subject. It was all written down and saved for prosperity. The average person working in a shop or working in the fields was never thought twice about or how they felt. Today those kinds people have a voice in social media and they are letting that voice be heard , around the world, by anyone who want to listen. How long will that last though? When will digital rot catch up with those voices? I can’t say. I doubt that people will start going back to handwritten journals to put their thoughts in like the great diarists did. People don’t have that kind of time any more would be the answer most people would give. All I have to say is that if you want your voice to be heard hundred, if not thousands of years from now, go old school and put pen to paper and let your thoughts flow on to that paper, otherwise they may be blow’n in the digital wind.