Philosophical Musings

October 24, 2006

Future History

Filed under: history,society — Elad Kehat @ 7:32 pm

Researchers of not-so-ancient history rely mostly on the written word in order to reconstruct the events of yore. What will future researchers of current times use? Video, no doubt.

It appears that video can supply much more information, being that the auditory and visual senses are the most important in our perception of reality. One need not wonder how things may have actually looked or sounded when it is all available on tape. Will that bring about a better understanding of our time by future generations compared with our understanding of our ancestors? Only to a limited amount.

What reality-capture technologies will be available a hundred years from now? Will there be total-presence communication systems, 3D recordings in which a person can immerse herself completely and feel truly part of the virtual experience? Will there be technologies that connect directly with our brain to deliver recorded sensations? How puny will our high-definition picture, surround sound videos will look to the general public then? I guess that the difference will be even bigger than what we experience when we watch an old black-and-white movie recording a historic event from the 1920s. As much as we may think that our age is recorded at a rate unknown before, our records will remain chiefly the matter that historians use in their day-to-day work, but the general public only experiences occasionally, maybe through some enhanced version designed to bring historic knowledge to a level more commensurate with their technological standards.

Think of archaeology – we all know about it, some may have experienced it by looking at dug-up sites, and excavated pottery and ornaments in museums, but how many have actually taken part in the archaeological work? How many outside the professionals have actually attempted to use their imagination to picture how those tools and ornaments must have been used at ancient times? It is mostly by books and popular films that we experience this – through second-hand imagination.

The same goes for more recent history, where we have written records. It is a scarce few, professionals mostly, who read ancient texts. Some prefer to get the historian’s summary, most prefer the historic-fiction novel or the popular film that depict those times, again, through second-hand imagination.

I do not think that this is just due to intellectual laziness, or the lack of imagination. The primary reason is the medium – we are so used to the much richer experience that a video can supply, or to the accessible language of a modern book, that we forego direct interaction with subjects of the past, and let an elite few deal with the hard-to-digest materials and spew forth versions better suited for our consumption.

The rich medium of today will probably seem very poor to the people of the future. Progressions in technology will render it inaccessible to the majority of society, thus subjecting them to experience our information age through the interpretation of scholars.

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