Monday, February 20, 2012

Update: Look Into the Future - How Much of Our Time Will Be Lost?


~The following is an update of a posting from last year~

I found the above note while on Facebook and I wondered just how many people actually knew what the Library of Alexandria was. Just in case you don't know I will give a very basic bit of information here (taken from eHistory) followed by my 'editorial' on how future generations may perceive us if we don't save today:

"The loss of the ancient world's single greatest archive of knowledge, the Library of Alexandria, has been lamented for ages. But how and why it was lost is still a mystery. The mystery exists not for lack of suspects but from an excess of them. 
Alexandria was founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolomy II Soter, founded the Museum or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. The Museum was a shrine of the Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens. The Museum was a place of study which included lecture areas, gardens, a zoo, and shrines for each of the nine muses as well as the Library itself. It has been estimated that at one time the Library of Alexandria held over half a million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations. Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The library was so large it actually had another branch or "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis.
So who did burn the Library of Alexandria? Unfortunately most of the writers from Plutarch (who apparently blamed Caesar) to Edward Gibbons (a staunch atheist or deist who liked very much to blame Christians and blamed Theophilus) to Bishop Gregory (who was particularly anti-Moslem, blamed Omar) all had an axe to grind and consequently must be seen as biased. Probably everyone mentioned above had some hand in destroying some part of the Library's holdings. The collection may have ebbed and flowed as some documents were destroyed and others were added.
The real tragedy of course is not the uncertainty of knowing who to blame for the Library's destruction but that so much of ancient history, literature and learning was lost forever."

I think you'll agree that the above ties in well with what I have written below:
In the reenacting community I portray a postmaster. I have a pretty decent set up at my tent including a desk, the mail holder, period stationary, period writing utensils, and enough historical information to teach visitors in (hopefully) an interesting and fun manner about the mail during the Civil War era. I also explain just how important the mail was to both the soldier and the citizen. I like to ask the visitor what they thought might have been written in the letters coming from home to the soldier fighting hundreds of miles away.
Almost everyone gets it right: they wrote about the everyday goings on in their daily lives; they wrote of the happenings in their community; they wrote of friends and family. And they wrote about these subjects in great detail:

June 3rd, 1862
My Dear Husband,
I got here the Friday after I left you, found all well but Aunt Hester, her arm is getting like her leg was. I had a very tiresome trip. You never saw the roads in such condition. I got stuck twice, once I had to get out and then the buggy had to be priyed up before Julia (the horse) could pull the empty buggy out. The horses all seemed to stand the trip very well. The children would get tired every evening, but in the morning was always impatient to start. They were well all the way, but Lillia was pretty much sick all the way. I don't think it is anything but hives.

And the letter continues for four full pages in this manner.
But, what a great description of what it was like to travel!

We have learned so much about the Civil War era through the letters and diaries of those who were there. And it's because of these letters and diaries that we can very accurately recreate a scene so accurate from the past that if we could bring one from the era back to life they would be very familiar and comfortable with our presentation.
So much of it is due to the written word of the time.
And now we have e-mails that can easily replace the letter. Think about it: instead of writing out a letter, buying a stamp, sending it out, then hoping it's delivered in a short time (within a week, maybe) we can just send out a quick note via the computer. Or send a text message via cell phones. Or instant messenger. Messages on Facebook.
But, let me ask you a question: how many of you reading this posting actually print out your e-mails or any of the other 21st century communications that you receive?
I thought so...
So, who, 150 years in the future, will know about our everyday lives?
It's scary to think that the only history of our times future generations might know is from what today's media will tell them.
And we all know just how accurate today's media is (cough cough).
For instance, when Obama and McCain were running against each other for president in 2008, the way the media presented it one would think that Obama won by 90 percent of the votes.
Not true.
Not even close.
In fact, it was much closer than the media would have you believe:
the popular vote was 69,456,897 for Obama to 59,934,814 for McCain.
Not nearly as great a divide as the media would have us all believe.
(By the way, this is not a political posting - - I just want to show my point, so please, no political commentary. It will not get posted).
The media follows their own truth.
Their own fashion.
And, whatever the media today says is the truth is what folks in the future may be forced to believe.
Because they will have nothing else to go on.
And we need to prevent that from happening.
It's really not that hard.
For me personally, I keep a journal. I type in it daily - even if it's just a quick little blurb. And, if I receive an e-mail from someone that is a personal-type e-mail, I will copy and paste it into the journal. In this way I have it.
My journal also consists of me and my family's daily activities, including (sometimes, but not all the time) our eating habits, TV shows and movies we enjoy watching, our historical events, some of our purchases, visits from neighbors and friends and extended family, prices of certain items, etc.
Yes, everyday life.
I also, by the way, print out a hard copy of what I've written at each month's end.
If you don't want to write a journal, then at least copy and paste your e-mails (and text messages if you can) onto a word document and print that out every so often.
But, I hope you would take a few minutes out of your busy day and write a little something.

How about photographs? How many of you with digital cameras actually print out your pictures?
I do.
Especially now that film is going the way of the vinyl record album, 8-track or cassette tape, and TV antenna.

Well, not every picture - I take over a thousand photos every year and choose the best to be printed. Yes, I go through a lot of ink and paper, but to me it's worth it. I suppose I could take a disc of my favorites to the local Rite Aid or CVS and have them print my pictures out cheaper, but I enjoy doing different things with my photos including printing them at different sizes and sometimes even printing little stories or bits of information to go with them.

By the way, I also store my computer information (text and photos) on an external hard drive and update that monthly as well.
Why do I do all this?
You see, I have this fear that one day (for whatever reason) our computers may not be accessible, therefore rendering everything not printed onto hard-copy, inaccessible (can you say floppy disc?).
What now?

Seriously - so much of our history is being lost. I really hate thinking that the media will be dictating our lives to future generations, don't you?


Stephanie Ann said...

I have a professor who says she fears this so much, she prints out every personal email she sends and receives. I constantly find myself writing stuff into my journal that I wish people wrote about in the past. "January 20th 2012: Bought a gallon of milk at $3.69. The milk came in a jug plastic container...ect." :D Maybe not that extreme but funny nonetheless. It's meaningless because the stuff that I think is important about the past might be over-documented for future researchers by other means.

Historical Ken said...

Stephanie Ann That's exactly what I'm talking about! Good for you!

Dawn said...

Great post. I never thought about it that way. I think you have a very good point. It is wonderful that people like Narcissa Whitman took the time to write in a journal. People in the future may enjoy reading of my life. At least my family probably will.
I have heard that letter writing is becoming a lost art. I love to write handwritten letters, and I love to receive them. I save every one.

Betsy said...

I've pondered this very thing. Because technology is changing so rapidly and making various storage devices obsolete and completely unusable (like you said - floppy discs, anyone?) I wonder if enough paper evidence will be left for future generations to learn from. All of our blogs are excellent archives of life right now, but who knows what form of the internet will exist 100 years from now, or if it even will exist?

It doesn't even have to be a far-away future to make us heedful of this - a few months ago my computer crashed and because I had backed nothing up, almost lost everything. Irreplaceable photos, documents, etc, everything. I learned the hard way that I need to save everything in multiple formats, including hard copies.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Dawn & Betsy for your kind comments and additions.
I really believe in this little "print the present for the future past" project. Hopefully we can get more people to store (in some form) today.

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Good advice. I used to keep a diary, for about 30 years, then stopped. I figured, who was I writing it for? Who would ever care what mundane things I did every day? You've given me reason to reconsider.