Thursday, 8 July 2010

The End of Written History?

I've just come across an article on the BBC News Channel - Post-It Notes and the End of Written History by Brian Wheeler.

Despite a decision by the last governement to reduce the 30-years secrecy rule to 20 years, it seems that we may have less access to information rather than more, as legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act has led to official records such as minutes of meetings changing from a full and detailed record to a series of bland statements of the obvious.

The Act covers all written material so notes in margins and post-it notes are covered just as much as the content of formal documents. Harder, however, to obtain evidence that they existed if the organisation claims they do not...

This isn't all that new though - I remember similar fears being aired by historians when the Data Protection Act came in. Claims that organisations would not formally hold any detail that could be subsequently demanded for disclosure by the subject and that might give cause for a claim.

Certainly there has been a great change in the detail you find these days when applying for references for staff. Many organisations have a policy now that any references given should only contain factual bare bones details such as date started and ended and job title. They are not generally worth the cost of asking.

So will future historians think of us as a bland and shallow people, incapable of emotion? Or will informal non-official documents and writings survive to give a totally different, more involved, more emotional point of view? What will have happened to all these blogs we write now? (I have 5 at current count!) Will we be seen as a community of individuals plaintively pouring out words in the hope that someone will read them, whilst retreating from closer forms of contact?

Do our online uses of social networking sites make us more incapable of interacting on a personal level face to face or do they open up new collaborations and widen participation so that geographical boundaries become meaningless?

Does the advent of self publishing, rapidly moving into multimedia with sites such as YouTube and the like, mean that writing may, after something like 9000 years since early mnemonic or pictogram symbols, start to be replaced by more personal, spoken or enacted forms? Certainly the language is evolving as it always has done. Will future historians wonder why there are so many letters to each word?

Yr m8, Jon...

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