Historical Footnotes

I posit that the event hori­zon of “his­tor­i­cal­ly impor­tant” as a qual­i­ty of infor­ma­tion is the point at which the dataset dis­ap­pears from liv­ing mem­o­ry. The mag­ni­tude of cer­tain events ensures that they will be record­ed for pos­ter­i­ty, but even then, the rea­sons behind that record­ing fade as the peo­ple who expe­ri­enced it die. I might be using the wrong terms here. Maybe it’s not his­to­ry I’m talk­ing about, but anthro­pol­o­gy. His­to­ry is “these are the things that hap­pened”; anthro­pol­o­gy is “these are the ways peo­ple acted.”

Liv­ing as I do, in a soci­ety where many peo­ple are arguably obsessed with record­ing and archiv­ing every detail of their lives, I won­der what meth­ods future historians/anthropologists will use to sift wheat from chaff — espe­cial­ly when, as this post is evi­dence for, so much of what is shared and saved is chaff.

That’s long-term his­toric­i­ty. If his­to­ry is still being record­ed 5,000 years from now, this whole epoch will like­ly be reduced to a one-lin­er: “An age of tech­no­log­i­cal growth so rapid it’s effects threat­ened to destroy civilization.”

Spe­cif­ic to this is the rise of the auto­mat­ed auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Peo­ple have been post­ing things online so long now that there are ser­vices to show us and let us share what we were doing to the day, 1, 3, 5, or 10 years ago. Is there a broad­er desire to con­sume these mini-his­to­ries, or do they just exist to serve our need to feel more impor­tant than we are? It does­n’t have to be either/or. My bet is that it’s an admix­ture of onanism, exhi­bi­tion­ism, and voyeurism.

Sig­nal to noise depends on your ears.

Trash is treasure.