The real end of history? Hardly

Slate has a great article on the Kindle, which I love, but a few lines in the article made me stop and think.

The Kindle 2 signals that after a happy, 550-year union, reading and printing are getting separated. It tells us that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence.

Almost everything we know about history is from things people wrote down. Cave paintings, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, hand copied books and lately printed books.

Will the ephemeral nature of electronic text prevent the future from learning about us?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no.

If there’s one think we’ve learned lately, it’s that the Internet is forever. Constantly expanding storage capacity means there’s no reason to delete anything so it hangs around forever. If anything, future historians will have to wade through billions of Myspace and Facebook pages, Millions of blogs and who knows how many forum postings in their quest to figure out what the hell we were thinking.

They’ll be inundated with the minutia of everyday life in the early 21st century.

I kinda feel sorry for them.

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0 Responses to The real end of history? Hardly

  1. Bob S. says:


    I think we also learn about history from other things they left behind, not just their writings.

    Buildings, tools, infrastructure are all things that allow us to determine where a society was focused on.

    As for as the minutia….bring it on. It is the details of daily life that breathes life into dusty history. Most of what is out there in electronic format won’t survive, the drives will corrupt, be over written, not transferred to new media….just like the millions of written words never survived.

    But what does survive will provide perspective on the bare bones history class information. When people talk about the Civil War, isn’t it the letters from the soldiers that tell is much about their lives?

    Think of the blogs, the emails, the pictures of today’s soldier’s surviving for hundreds of years….maybe a few will survive to tell about the projects we’ve built, the friends we’ve made, the changes we’ve made to hospitals and schools; won’t it make a difference in the debate about whether we should or shouldn’t have gone to war if that information survives?

    Great topic to think about. What are we doing to pass on our memories to our kids and descendants?

  2. Borepatch says:

    How many unreadable backup tapes are around? What are the chances that Kindle ends up as the next?