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What the internet does for future history: something I’m interested in

April 15, 2012

Our facebooks, twitters, emails, blogs, youtube channels, avatars, gravatars, conquerclub accounts, ebay purchase histories—everything we do on the internet will be saved somewhere, forever. Or at least it should be, because the internet offers more primary sources on the history of today than future historians will have time for. There was a glimpse of this in the story I wrote yesterday about a future gladiatorial television show, in which the idea for the show came from a guy watching old television shows archived on the internet.

There are innumerable ways our information can be used by our descendants. History in schools could become less dry and impersonal if, say, teachers assigned students to profile an ancestor: his or her personality, taste in music, career arc, etc.—all couched in historical contextualization. Imagine if you had that sort of information on one of your nineteenth- or fifteenth-century ancestors. All of their opinions on politics, culture and religion would be available (for a price, no doubt), and that song they mentioned, well, you could actually listen to it. The victors would lose their monopoly on the writing of history; everyone would do it.

With so much information for future historians to sift through, there is bound to be some filtration process. And anyone who is interested in studying their own family history would likely have to pay one of those ancestry/genealogy websites. Facebook, twitter and the like will need who knows how many more servers to keep archived accounts—as in, those belonging to dead people—available. The costs for that will be upwards of a lot and passed along to the consumer, perhaps. There is also the issue of server space. All of this information obviously exists in the physical world, on computer chips and servers. Chips get smaller and more powerful every day but the bazillions of bits of information that make up this blog or your facebook will only continue to increase, and at a terrifying rate with the increasingly sophistication of webpages and the growth of the human population that creates and uses them.

I don’t know computer science that well so I might be using some incorrect terminology but I am sure that’s the case. In order to preserve this information, there will need to be more and more servers. With the need to provide food and shelter for an ever-increasing human population, this might not be possible. I can see three possible ways around this problem: billions of people die, civilizations build and live vertically, or life becomes interplanetary. Given the threat of catastrophic global climate change, the last option seems like the best long-term. Maybe if we leave, the servers will still be here as a record of our existence for any visiting aliens (or Martian humans could log-on, it would just take a while).

Like this all the way around the world.

I’m going too far ahead. I wanted to write this because I truly believe that historians and regular people centuries from now will read it (if they find it in the digital haystack first). It’s also a way to sidestep the fear of death. If I am right about even one thing in this post, they will know it, and my thought process will live as long as this is read. I want to speak to the world of tomorrow, and if my writing resonates then maybe I’ve hit upon some capital-T Truth, something that binds us together across generations.



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