Monday, April 21, 2014

The Internet as Cultural Memory

In the days of yore, nobody wrote anything. I know you're hearing this for this first time.

They remembered everything, frequently as story-songs because that's easy to remember, right? We remember songs we don't want to remember, because this is how our brains plague us.

Then we started writing things down. Only certain people, though. This widespread gift of literacy is, I think, fairly recent. Because words are power.

Is this how I wanted to start this post, really? I hope so, because the Internet, like diamonds, are forever. Theoretically. For instance, all my posts here will persist long enough to embarrass me, I'm sure.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

 The Internet is a snapshot of the here and now. The good and the bad. The affluenza and Upworthy and Free Rice. A huge percentage of things that happen every day happen online. When they "got" Osama Bin Laden, I found out on Twitter first, not from a "real" news source.

Increasingly, though, the Internet is also our history. On Bartleby and Project Gutenberg, you can read books which have gone into the public domain. Retronaut is "The photographic time machine". The British Pathé has made their videos available on YouTube, which includes such things as the Wright Brothers first flight and the Hindenberg disaster. The Vatican is working to digitize their manuscripts and make them available online (though I'd give my eyeteeth for time enough in the Vatican library, I would). Geeze, even Getty images, that large stock of stock photos, has made some available for use royalty free and have a tremendous quantity to browse.

There's more, there's always more. Google scholar, National Geographic, Wikipedia (which must obviously be taken with a grain of salt), the NASA web site, the Book of Kells. So much information. More than you can take in during your one short lifetime. All of human knowledge is seeping into cyberspace (do we call it that anymore?) and it's going to stay there. We're learning more every day, also more than any one person can know.

Constantly creating, constantly learning, and constantly remembering. The Internet is becoming our cultural memory, if it hasn't become so already.


  1. Nice, Jen :) As I read, I couldn't help but think of Jung, wonder what he would think and say about the internet. The collective unconscious realized?

    1. Jung is a good corollary for this!

      I haven't read Jung yet, unfortunately, just ABOUT Jung, so I didn't want to include him poorly and muddy the waters.

  2. The trouble is that far more than just Wikipedia needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The Internet is overflowing with misinformation and 'because it can be Googled' it's taken as the truth. Not ready to accept that? Try checking the website where every word is true and it's total rubbish.

    1. Also a very good point. "I read it on the Internet" is sarcasm shorthand for "It must be true!"

  3. I'm pretty careful when researching on the internet. I typically will use information in my essays only if they are quoted and cited from a reliable source. Wikipedia has to be monitored and erroneous entries reported. It takes time to report errors and have those responsible blocked from updating in the future.

    However, I do find the internet a valuable source of information, especially since you can gain information so much faster than would have been conceivable in less than two decades ago.

    1. Yes, I'll frequently use Wikipedia for recreational reading, and then read the sources cited at the bottom for the "real" story.

      It is amazing how much you can find nowadays, different even from 10 years ago! It would've been a real boon when I was doing my thesis in college in 2004. All those articles painstakingly ordered through the library....