Usually I write this really upbeat blog, but today will be different. So prepare yourself for a change of pace. Normally I talk about all the advantages that the digital world entails, but for today I would like to focus on the downside of the digital world (when it comes to history).
But why is the digital world bad for history? In my (maybe not so humble opinion) because it makes us lazy. And history… Well, it’s not really a lazy field of study. Nowadays we are all used to getting what we want and getting it right now. We Google something and we get thousands of results in not even a second telling us exactly what we need. And we all are so spoiled because of it, hardly anyone goes to the second resultpage because of it’s not on the first page it’s not there we assume. And while this is not so bad for people of the age of 20 and higher, imagine it being a few years from now. Imagine all those kids, who have been spoiled with information since they were young. We can already see some things happening right now, like children’s handwriting that is getting worse. Because everything is digital, children have bad handwriting. Children are really good at fast typing and stuff. But the downside of that is that they never have to summarize what a teacher is telling them, because they can type as fast as the teacher is talking.
Some of you might think: “Well, bad handwriting isn’t so bad.” But I think this is just the beginning of things. As the years will go by, we shall start seeing more change. For the field of history these could have a massive impact. As I said earlier, we are spoiled by us getting information abundantly and fast. So we lose sight of details, because there is no time for that. We generalize and just assume things so we can save time. I see a future in history where less people will not be as interested in really finding out stuff, because that takes time and patience.
As I said before my fiel is especially challenging. WOII has loads of games and documenteries about it. Even Google has all the answers. But try finding out some real stuff about for instance King Kilamuwa from the Kingdom of Ya’diya. There is only stuff to find about his stela. It really requires you to grab a book and really read it.
And yes, I know this is all terribly pessimistic. And there are loads of people who will disagree with me and see the digital world as an enrichement to the field. And yes, it may very well be, but I think that with that enrichement will also come a loss. People will lose some qualities that I think are absolutely needed in a historian, such as an eye for detail and patience. So with this excitement that I usually feel when I see that stuff has been made available online and is ‘Googable’, there is always this feeling that it might have its downsides further along the line.
To end on a sort of positive note, there is a terribly interesting article about historians and digital history (and why they tend to not like the digital world).