Our Digital Future and the Democratization of History

File:CyborG dc.jpg
By Kaio oliveira santos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Prompt: Write a blog post in response to our class on digital history.

Let’s start by getting this out of the way. There is not fundamental difference between “Digital History” and “Regular History.” Although the tools have changed, the underlying assumptions stay the same. Through critical analysis of a variety of sources, contextualized with background knowledge, and investigated with the skills of a seasoned detective, students will build historical understanding. That has not changed. What has changed are the tools by which this is accomplished. Although these tools confront us with significant challenges, they also provide an exciting new experience. In some ways, this experience is an even purer way to study history. Though gatekeepers of knowledge have been a bastion of higher education and philosophical debate for centuries, there is nothing intrinsic in them linking them indelibly to history done “the right way.” Digitization equals democratization. The challenge of moving forward is how to embrace these new technology, held in our hands and connected to our minds, while minimizing the risks and maximizing the incredible potential inherent in their capabilities.

Of course, there are both risks and challenges associated with embracing technology. Those who argue that the human brain has not evolved to efficiently cope with the incredible amount of information we are subject to on a daily basis are correct. That was not our evolutionary past. However, it may well be our evolutionary future. We stand at a precipice of incredible change. It is up to us to recognize our current limitations and carefully guard against the documented, harmful effects of too much stimulation – especially for children. Yet we must also realize that the future does not lie in the past. Books are being rapidly replaced by websites, podcasts, web journals, and more. The ability to push our historical understanding by engaging with multiple sources and viewpoints, especially beyond those of the intellectuals or elites, broadens historical inquiry into a truly humanistic endeavor.

In the classroom, this may take on varying forms. I honestly believe that, as future generations become more akin to the digital world, they will evolve the mechanisms needed to deal with the information overload we now face. However, the truth is, we don’t have that capability yet. Therefore, we must be careful. Use technology, but guided with great care. Evidence suggests that humans have not truly evolved the capability to multitask. Therefore, let us not pretend that our children can. When they are splitting their attention, they are missing information. Teach them technology, but also teach them moderation and focus.

To close, let us realize that there is no use fighting the inevitable. In fact, doing so may harm us in the long run. Realize that technology has an incredible potential to revolutionize our lives for the better. Yet before we dive headlong into this frenzy, let us take a step back and asses our current situation. We are at a cusp in our evolution and we have not evolved sufficiently to become truly digital creatures. Yet even when we do, there are so many incredible mechanisms our evolution has given us. We should not abandon the lessons of the past for a forgotten future, nor should we forget the potential of the future for the comfort of the past. Instead, we should move forward with caution and anticipation, welcoming the promises of the digital age and the true democratization of history.

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