Uploading Our Place in History

By this point, I’m pretty certain that we are all very aware that we are living in the midst of, what has been named, the “Digital Revolution”. Take this article as proof: I was able to type it on a portable computer (aka an iPhone), measuring only 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 in, let someone 14 miles away instantaneously edit my abhorrent grammar, and then publish it to be viewed on devices across the globe. The ramifications of our Posting, Tweeting, Sharing, and Liking are infinite: potential unknown, consequences uncertain. I could from this starting point, go on to write a thousand articles dissecting the Digital Revolution , and I have no doubt that at some point The Retrospect will publish many of them. However, I wish to explore the Digital Revolution retrospectively (pitiful pun intended), looking past our incessant documenting to focus on what these newly forming online records will mean for the Millennial legacy.

Every comment, selfie, vine, trending topic, blog, app, and status is contribution to an entirely unique public archive. With access to the internet only growing, the “voice of the people” is being recorded in snippets and screenshots of opinion never before seen. At no other point in history have ordinary people, on this scale, had the ability to document. We have only been able to generalise, using comparatively infinitesimal pieces of evidence, what commoners, like you and me, may have regarded the events around them. How did the starving farmers of the PRC react towards Mao once their crops failed in 1959? What attitude did women in England to take towards two female monarchs, who ruled for a combined 49 years? Did the French peasantry lament the Revolution by 1799, as Napoleon became First Consul? Given the chance, what would the ordinary people say?

No records exist which are even remotely close to the archives we are unwittingly creating for future historians. The opinions and views we are recording daily are going to provide the first ever comprehensive social context; a previously unimaginable feat. Unlike before, historical analyses will be able to account for members of societies’ views, across ages, gender, education levels, political leanings, language, class, and a plethora of additional, unbreakable boundaries. The potential ramifications of this are an astonishing thought to consider; our descendants will be able to see the build up online to events we don’t even know will take place yet, they will be able to chart the rises and falls of political leaders, the living impacts of policies implemented. Reasons will be found and links will be drawn through connections we cannot see for ourselves.

Digital records will also exist to substantiate theories about the world today that we can only extrapolate about the past; these online documentations will be incomparable, allowing historians to understand more about us than we ourselves can see.

The potential for the Digital Revolution’s archives are in many respects formidable, and it can be an intimidating thought to realise that you are contributing to this every moment you pick up an electronic device. But we should be excited at the prospect of these records: future generations will be able to perceive patterns and issues which lead to both great and terrible things. Perhaps they will be able to recognise where their future is headed through the experiences we document today- how minorities become alienated or when populism turns to anger. Perhaps they will have the ability to craft better futures through our infinitely chronicled mistakes.

I am only saddened that I will not be able to see it.


One thought on “Uploading Our Place in History

  1. Interesting point but one could argue predictive analytics is already happening and becoming more common place and it is my generation that is starting to make use of this … and its yours that will realy start to exploit this capability.

    Microsoft Cognitive Services and AI, IBM Watson, Google Machine Intelligence are all technology solutions that anyone can go out and ‘buy’ to give insight in to all sorts of data.
    – Monitoring for financial fraud or security risks (heuristics is a fun one)
    – The ability for judge with a high degree of accuracy someones political leanings based on less than 30 tweets
    – The ability to guess the winner of the football world cup/Eurovision song contest/Wimbledon
    All these are useful and have practical applications … some for a bit of fun, some for serious investment.

    What is ‘interesting’ (for a given use of the word :-)) is that there is also a massive potential social impact which can start to raise questions along the lines of ‘just because you can predict something should you’ or ‘if you can predict something what do you do about it (does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy)?’.
    – Predictive policing enabling a force to target certain areas with additional police presence depending on social sentiment – increased police presence in certain situations can actually increase tensions even if there is a Twitter # indicating that problems are going to take place?
    – Using local data to identify children who are likely to fall in to a life of crime later in life (family, education, social environment, financial situation, etc…- do you then target that child with additional social or educational support, do you remove them from that environment completely?
    – Using that same data to predict future potential health issues – do you then invest more heavily in monitoring that person or putting them on a proactive medication regime?

    IDC has predicated that we will have 180 Zetabytes (thats 1800 trillion Gigabytes) of data globally by 2025 … when we start to run out of words to describe volumes of data you can guess that somewhere within that data will be the ability to provide any insight or prediction you want to make.


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