History & the Digital in a Post September 11th World
I have a question I’m trying to think through. Does the speed of digital media allow for the creation of history/historical encounters?
I am not in a history based field anymore, though my M.A. is. It is just a part of my formation, and an area of interest for me so there’s that…
Basically, we understand history as the passage of time, as something embodied, and as a before time/before now. The temporal aspect of history makes us and it contingent. However, the advancement of speed, that is, things moving at the speed of light due to the digitization of so much of our communication, interactions, and even our memories, has made it so the traces of new histories are vast and disjointed. In the past there were a few people gifted the ability to set the historical narrative and affirm it’s faultlessness, and reinforce its disciplining capacity by placing it in specific, recognized, archives. Often we talk of history as being written by “the winners”. Now though, people are constantly creating searchable, reproducible across time and space, public archives without the commitment or politics of what we previously marked as the Archive, and without being on the winning team. The archive isn’t as obviously being scripted by the power structures of society (though obviously there is power written into the code of the platforms we use etc., and nothing is created outside of society).
Still, I can’t help but think maybe there is no more History except for the history that exists in the browser.
The last big historical event that comes to mind before smartphones were the norm was September 11th.
My counter example is May 2, 2011. When I search that date on google what I am looking for comes up as the first result among 816,000,000+ other results. It should have been a major historical event.
The speed at which things happen now means there is no longer a future point in time where we go back and write the past. The past is written in virtually real time. we go back and look at the archive. I am thinking specifically here of the death of Osama bin Laden. In the past, the news of his death would have gone through a 24-48 hour news cycle, with those in power giving out the information to official sources who then passed it on to the journalist at most probably the New York Times. From there it would be on page 1, pass through other communication systems, and then be on the front pages of other papers, or on internet news sites within 12-48 hours. Instead, it was leaked, then officially announced, at which point the realization occurred that it was live tweeted by a random person nearby. People celebrated that night by tweeting pictures of their celebrations and posting those across social media while simultaneously being broadcasted live on 24hour news channels. Within two days, instead of the news just getting to people, people had already moved on.
When things move this quickly, I can’t help but wonder what the history will look like once it is codified and agreed upon and disseminated, and how all that will be done.