A digital world with a non-existent past

It’s 2021, and stories about safe havens, net neutralities and “nothing personal, just business” are no longer impressive. Information intermediaries, search services, and the like rushed to take positions in various conflicts.

Many people talk about what the future awaits us, but as a historian, I am more concerned about the question of what the PAST is in store for us. Moreover, at the heart of this concern are the generally accepted advantages of digital technologies: quick access to content from anywhere in the world, and the ease of improving and updating any materials.

Often people think that there are some ideal Historians who sit in ideal Archives where ideal Sources are safely stored. In reality, historians work with everything: from strict documents in pretentious state archives to incomprehensible pictures from online auctions.

So I, when studying the history of technology, like to delve into dictionaries, specialized magazines, technical literature, textbooks and commercial literature from manufacturers.

It is very interesting to observe how models of technology appear and disappear in different editions of the same book. As in different volumes of TSB in similar topics, illustrations with different models are used, because the situation has changed over the several years between the volumes to different letters. How in the technical literature they begin to distinguish some class of machines.

Constant letters on paper allow you to see the development of the situation in dynamics, allow you to see disputes and changes in opinions. I see how people argue about the advisability of introducing chainsaws in forestry, how they rush to implement and how then everything rolls back. And I see this despite the fact that many of the participants in the process were shot – all this is preserved on the pages of paper books and magazines.

This dynamics of the development of the situation is not only historically interesting, but also practically useful. The history of research, development, implementation and use is part of the experience that can be useful both now and in the future.

And all this is thanks to the letters on paper, which are difficult to change and for which it is impossible to make a full-text search.

But now we are not limited to paper, now we have huge opportunities for digital technology.

And that’s the problem: we no longer have paper letters, we no longer have paper photographs, we no longer have paper books and magazines – we have many digital wonders that are very easy to search for, which are easy to access and which very easy to improve.

And this gave rise to new practices leading to the destruction of historical sources.

* * *

You can go right now to find in your social network account the use of a word for which they are now being banned and file a complaint. And you will be banned.

First of all, we must feel sorry for linguists who are deprived of information about which words were used at what time, but it is not only about them.

It’s not just linguists who have problems, people just take and close / delete their old records. After all, for these incriminating entries, they can not only be banned on social networks, but also be fired from their jobs.

There were some photographs, discussions, mentions of events, thoughts about current situations, and all this is deleted only because somewhere among this array of sources there may be one single word for which a person can now be ruined.

And he deletes EVERYTHING.

* * *

Right now, the advertising system may refuse to monetize some media for content that is now deemed incriminating.

First of all, we will think that specialists have lost the opportunity to freely discuss current issues, and this will damage our future, but this is not only a matter of current discussions.

But the problem is that somewhere in the media archives there may be old discussions on the same topics, and because of these old materials that do not generate ad impressions, your entire publication may be deprived of money.

Will the owners of this media want to risk their publication so that historians of the future can study the dynamics of the discussion about “…” in half a century?

Or will they remove all toxic materials in bulk?

* * *

You can be anyone: an ordinary citizen, a famous person or an organization, and at any moment it may turn out that there is material in your digital past that in the next 15 minutes can completely destroy your world.

This is all because modern digital technologies give all of us an excellent opportunity to search and access materials.

And in this situation, I see no reason for you not to let the “red rooster” into your digital archive, which has become a public cabinet with skeletons.

Maybe destroy everything, maybe only communication with someone who is toxic right now, maybe only documents in which there is a toxic sequence of letters, but you will.

This is because modern digital technologies provide us with an excellent opportunity to improve and correct digital documents.

And this happens with every new toxic topic, toxic word, toxic person.

And this is precisely the problem of the past in the digital world.

Previously, people simply stopped discussing some topic, but they could not clean up their past and simply hoped that no one would find this past. Then historians came to study the development of some topic. It was possible to analyze, draw conclusions, extract forgotten experience or form a new one.

Now people not only stop discussing the topic in the present, but also destroy it in the past.

Each “outbreak” with a ban on something in our present not only changes our future, but also destroys our past.

And real historians of the future will see only a flash that has arisen in the middle of emptiness, without any background or reason.

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