A post on the O’Reilly Radar mirrors some thoughts I’ve been having. We have passed over a distinct phase shift in history from when only some things were remembered to when everything is rememebered and in the future, this distinction is only going to get more and more stark. In the future, every single edit in wikipedia will be preserved, every tweet and every livejournal entry, we’ll have more information on a 3rd rate reality tv star from 2005 than most presidents and this is going to radically alter the way future generations interpret the past.
The curious thing is that phase shift happened a long time before anyone thought there would be a phase shift. I estimate the phase shift to be at the point of the first world war. Everything before then will cross into a vague sort of blur, Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution. Events spaced 100s of years apart. But after that point, it’ll be WWI, Depression, WWII, Cold War. Events spaced 10 years apart.
However, the very nature of this enormous amount of data also casts a certain shape on how we understand our past. Already, I’ve noticed there are certain things which are very hard to Google for. For example, material about a person/thing before it got famous. Finding out what the world was like 10 years ago through Google turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Another rather curious quirk of Google is that it’s almost impossible to find out anything about Wikipedia. Any search you do only results in Wikipedia articles.
When most people think about the future, they map their own notions of significance onto future generations. But they often fail to account for the vagaries of time and fashion and how the future will project it’s own inevitable biases on us as we do on our past.