What will History think of us? How will the times we live in now be viewed in 20, 50, or 100 years? With everything going on right now, all of the political and social and economic issues that seem important in our lives today, what will last and what will disappear?
Ooo, yeah, that’s deep for a Fun Friday post! But as the election ended and the celebrations and hand-wringing began across our nation this week, I caught myself wondering how much it will really matter.
To put it into perspective, I was a History major in college. Twice. I have two bachelor’s degrees in History. And if there’s one thing you learn while studying history, it’s how to look at the big picture. History isn’t studied year-by-year, day-by-day, it’s studied in terms of eras, ages, periods, and trends. Everything is always changing. Good or bad, eras don’t last. Regardless of how change happens, people go on waking up in the morning, going to work, and interacting with other people.
So! Since we’re not going to be remembered for the exact, specific things going on right now that the media dissects in detail, what are we going to be remembered for?
Well, first of all, I think we can pretty much all agree that we entered another era of history on September 11th, 2001. So very many things changed around that time that I’m reasonably certain the era we’re living in right now will be recorded as having started that day. But it goes far beyond the attacks in NYC. I think this era will also be known for the economic downturn. But more than anything else, maybe even more than 9/11, I think right now will forever be known as the Internet Age. Maybe more than that. Maybe it will be the Age of Social Media.
Now I love social media. It has opened the world up like nothing ever has before. I have daily conversations with people in Australia, New Zealand, and England, not to mention occasional discussions with folks in India and other non-English-as-a-first-language countries. How awesome is that? Communication is easier and freer than it’s ever been. Sit back and watch the ideas flow!
Except that there’s one glaring problem with this way of communicating. The way we get our information has changed, and not for the better.
Once upon a time, many years ago, when I was a young and impressionable girl who liked to know about things, I had an intimate relationship with the card catalog at my local college library. Let me tell you, I knew how to find stuff out! It wasn’t just the card catalog and the books housed at the library either. We had this set of books called The Guide to Periodic Literature. Basically it was a bound catalog of every magazine article that had been written about every subject. I would look stuff up and order copies of serious academic and scientific journals sent to me through Interlibrary Loan.
Nowadays if people want to know those same sorts of things that I would look up what do they do?
I’m pretty sure you just answered “They look it up on Wikipedia or online”.
Yes, information is at our fingertips. We can find answers to things with a click of a mouse. But what exactly are we finding?
Granted, this is not news. We all know that the validity of information found on the internet has to be carefully scrutinized for quality before we can believe it. The thing is, people are lazy. They don’t verify things. It’s there online so we cut corners and assume it’s right, end of story.
I smacked hard into the wall of this kind of thinking last weekend, and it wasn’t pretty. I had posted a blog about The True Story of King Richard and King John at the website for my online RWA chapter. And I got slammed for the facts I presented. Boy did people argue with me! All because I was stating an alternative view to the commonly held image of Richard as a good king and John as a bad one. Granted, I know that this is a subject of fierce scholarly debate. There is evidence to support both interpretations of the facts. That’s what history is. It’s a constant debate. Facts are mutable and people spend their entire careers trying to make sense of them and argue for their theories.
Yeah. I was getting impatient with the arguments against my viewpoints. Especially since I said repeatedly in comments that renowned medievalists of sterling reputation have and continue to make cases on both sides of the argument and that it is just that, a debate. But no. I had a couple of people out for blood, intent on making me retract everything I said in favor of their viewpoint.
But the moment of crowning glory came when one of these commenters included a link to the source of their opinion, their “definitive argument”. It was an article from About.com. Said article was written by some freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Texas, Austin (which we all know is a hotbed of medievalism … in Texas). Meanwhile, I had my actual hardcover paper books written by world-class medievalists (like Rhodes Scholar, Princeton PhD, professor at Columbia University Norman F. Cantor) open across my table as I fact-checked myself and my commenters.
Well, after that I gave up. I closed the books and the argument. (And I was cranky and ungracious about it too) I’m sorry, but I am not arguing academics with someone who uses About.com (or Wikipedia or anything online) as their primary source. Call me a snob, but my Rhodes Scholar outranks your U of T undergrad.
Okay, so I digressed a bit telling that story. The point is this. At the title of this post implies, I think this current era of readily-available “information” and communication will ensure that we are remembered as the age of Know-Nothing Know-It-Alls. Because really. We all think we know everything because we think we can click our way to online content that is written in a persuasive style.
Granted, I still think it’s a great thing that information is in the hands of the masses now and not the hands of a privileged elite. But at the same time, let’s face it, the masses haven’t learned to discern the quality of the information coming at them. There is no respect for scholarship and research anymore. It’s all about the McInfo. And that makes the giant nerd in me who used to order academic journals through Interlibrary Loan really sad.
So there you have it. We think we know everything because so many things that sound persuasive are just a click away, but because no one stops to verify any sources or do the hard work of real research, we actually know nothing. And that’s what we will be remembered for.
Do you think I’m on to something here? What do you think our current age will be remembered for?