I have recently received a Tweet that linked me to an excellent BBC World News report from the U.S.A. called “Why everyone has to be a historian in the digital age“ This was a powerful report about a ninety year old blogger on her death bed who talked about the fact that she had joined the digital age late in life and yet found it wonderful as a pastime but more importantly saw it as a means of creating a digital memoir for her descendents.
The report then went on to talk about the work of the “Internet Archive” This is an amazing site that has within it something called the “Wayback machine” which explains itself thus: “Browse through over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible.”
Now I don’t know about you but I cannot conceive of what 150 billion would even look like except it seems like a huge amount of data that has been collected since we made our first faltering steps into this amazing world called the internet. Without a doubt it will provide future historians with incredibly rich seams of material to mine and create content from. But it will never be easy. The amount of data from blogs and other sources is growing at an exponential rate.
Therefore, if you are a historian researching the year 2010 in the future and by some incredible chance you happen to land on this small little blog in the sea of other material released on Sunday 3rd October in that year let me express my sympathies for the difficulties of your task and my appreciation that you have happened to hit upon my work.
But notwithstanding the unlikelihood of that event happening the fact that the Internet Archive exists as does its noble effort to collect and collate the internet from 1996 has got to be applauded. It means that Phyllis Greene of Columbus Ohio, the 90 years old lady in the news report, has a means to make sure that her personal view of the world,as recorded in her blog, will remain somewhere for her descendents to see.
Another site mentioned in the film is The Remembering Site which is a site that has been set up specifically for people like Phyllis to recall their stories for their descendents. This is a site that will have the advantage over the accident of being a needle in a large haystack of blog pages produced in one day (like today) of being a place where memories can be set down and therefore become a specific place for future historians or family researchers to look.
I found this site fascinating and spent a wonderful period of time reading about 80 year old Bill Riley a catholic, republican from Lincoln Nebraska who entered his story on May 5th 2006. I learnt about his family, his background, how his uncle saved a cow once, how he has a major disease IBM, that confines him to an electric chair and is incurable, about his time in the U.S. forces. I feel like I know Bill really well and more importantly, he has made a digital record for all of us to know him in the future.
In the film, Tom Scheinfeldt, of the Center For History and New Media, states that the internet has democratised history. It makes everyone part of the data for research for the future and places us, the famous and the unknown, as part of the fabric of events. I find this very exciting and comforting. As we wend our way towards the closure of our brief stay on this planet it is nice to know that we may have a legacy that relates to the fact that we were once here and had something to say.
I shall end this blog post now and consider what I might put on my own autobiography on “The Remembering Site”. Just what can I say about my life that may be of interest to the future? Well that’s an interesting new set of questions to consider.