Technology and future-history

Technology changes (the first thing I typed there was "impoverishes", but I'm not sure I agree with that extreme) society. Think of all of the great people of the past, how do we know them? Letters, what they have written, both to others, and for themselves. Of the classically great people, only a small body of their presence is published works, the great majority (like an iceberg) is an underlying pool of journal entries and letters. Our modern society will not have this, so who will be great? Sure, we have our blogs, we have our email, but all of that is completely transitory. This email will be gone within a year (for me, slightly longer, but still). Over half of the body of work I've published online is gone forever, and this is true for most of the digerati, some of whom may someday be great. Come to think of it, telephones have helped this too. What will we know of the future great figures from our day? Only the face they present in published works, we will never have that key insight into their person that letters and diaries provide. What would Leonardo be without his notebooks? Half the figure, today, we talk more about his notebooks than we do his "published" works.

Perhaps it is for the best. The digital medium might be mercifully transient. It promotes quick, sloppy, thought. Think of the eloquence of the letters from civil war soldiers to home. Then look at the quality of writing in the average email or IM. Think of what we have already lost just by the ease of the medium. The easier things get, the more the quality degrades. Imagine if the great philosophers or authors tried to write in the most simplistic of styles, how much meaning would be lost? Kant for dummies isn't, and can never be Kant. Look at Sartre, we all know that he can write in a nice, easy, style, one only has to read his short fiction, or plays to see that he could write for the masses. But when we open one of his great works (i.e. Being and Nothingness) we are greeted with difficult and opaque, dense text. It is not stream of consciousness, which is the style most advocated by electronic media. McLuhan was right on that point,the medium is the message, the question is what will be the future-historical impact of this axiom?

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