Imagine walking in to the awe-inspiring ruins of the great ancient libraries of Alexandria in Egypt or Pergamum and Ephesus in Turkey, to name but a few. It would be a walk into history, not just because of the momentous weight of past civilisations associated with the architecture, but because one would be entering the sacred holdings of the pages of history. Then, history was scribed meticulously, be it politics, economics or religion, or the individual’s observations and perspirations. History then was a sacred physical entity that would last for thousands of centuries to come.
Modern history was recorded too. Libraries exist today that carry books upon books on the great explorations, wars and celebrations. As newspapers came into being, so did great archives of the day-to-day records of the happenings of the past. History became identified by notable headlines: “the war is over!,” “JFK assassinated,” “Britain drops the gold standard” and so on.
What is notable about the past is that history was made with paper and ink, and so it lasted. In today’s extremely digital age, where very little can be done without a computer, and storage is in a virtual folder, will History last?
The answer is two-fold: firstly, history today is created “live” and “on-air”- the arab spring, political elections, humanitarian campaigns and global issues develop and unfold on a second-by-second bases by means of the forums of social media and a constantly connected society. Take your eye off your computer screen for a minute and you’ll have likely missed a 100 pages of history. In time, when someone asks “where were you when the iPad was announced?” or “where were you when 9/11 happened?”, the answer will likely be “staring at my computer/television screens”.
Because of the “live”-ness of today’s events, how then can history be recorded? Are the minute-by-minute tweets and status updates saved somewhere accessible by historians? Can they be reprinted as evidence in logging a timeline of certain events? Everything happens so fast, it becomes history th next day: less than twenty-four hours after the Russian online elections drew to a close, Kony2012 took the world by storm. There’s more happening in a day than can be remembered.
The digital age is fading History into the undefined realms of cyberspace. The infinite capacity of Google and other search engines – the modern library – bring up millions of results, which translates to millions of views, millions of perspectives and millions of stories. The students of the future will either have to spend hours corroborating and collaborating the vast historical information, or they just won’t read it.
When you walk into a library it’s easy: go to the right section, pick a book that looks interesting, read it and learn. In the future, history books may still exist but they’ll be more difficult to write accurately because everything happens virtually. There’s also the potential of the future holding no paper (at the rate of technological development it’s arguably possible) – how then will future generations read our history? How will they create theirs?
The fact is that for centuries history was ink on paper, now its less and less so. Unfortunately, tt seems that the aura of the libraries of Alexandria, Ephesus and Pergamum is dead. Let’s hope History will not suffer the same fate.