As the end of the Obama’s presidency draws near, and the world waits on tenterhooks for the future, I was wondering how technology will assist future historians in understanding our times. Once upon a time historians reveled over each piece of buried ephemera that was discovered and shed light on historical events with new scintillating details Now won’t our future historians be able to listen to every single phone call and text message Obama ever sent? Where’s the mystery in that? Everything will be known by everyone – the Warholian fifteen minutes of fame era is upon us – who knew it would mean “going viral”?
Just for a moment though, indulge me and imagine if we could have listened to the Mayans? The Romans? The Celts? (My father was a history teacher after all). How will new technologies affect our own little archives here in the land of NGO work? Will we leave spoken word oral histories for our future Board of Directors? Will we soon leave everything in a secure digital archive and hope that it survives futures technologies that are yet to be developed. (Beta, VHS I’m talking to you!)
We also however, need to be careful of what technology can do to historical accuracy, because all technology can be manipulated. For example, Historians have used Hollywood as a reference for their written work on Indigenous peoples. The Native Americans that Hollywood portrayed in their movies are not a true representation of the actual Native Americans as they existed, hundreds of years ago. Even textbooks avoid the true account of today’s treatment of indigenous peoples in both Canada and the USA. We have allowed history to be driven by the biases of the dominant culture and be portrayed, as we’d want to have imagined them.
The Internet is also full of fake news, made up stories, and click bait. Being genuine, and having genuine stories to tell that are fact checked and contain real data will be important for future historians as we go forward into the age of globalization. For truly we are moving in a new direction with massive shifts in the way we live, document, and archive our lives now, compared to in the previous century.
We can and do converse with complete strangers on the other side of the planet as easily as we can talk with the person seated next to us. Boundaries between nations are becoming increasingly less distinct. News, current events, and culture and historical happenings are shared globally and experienced in real time. True power is shifting from governments to immensely powerful global corporations. It is no coincidence that the next phase of space travel and colonization will be led by private corporations, and not governments. NGO’s may decline, merge, or get bigger or all become social outreach for conglomerates.
I would say that historians will look back at this time in history as the beginning of the Age of Globalization and search through Obama’s blackberry and wonder at simpler times.