Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Tyranny of the Now

Once again, I find myself revisiting the proposition that the very concept of history is alien to our current culture. As a rule I have written this off as an unanticipated consequence of the world the Internet has made, but I found an interesting observation in support of this hypothesis on the BBC News Web site this morning. The observation came from a report of an role-reversal experiment involving two reporters. The author of the story, Zoe Kleinman, was a heavy Twitter user; and she agreed to change places with her colleague, Carolyn Rice, whose use of Twitter was negligible. Basically, each took over the other's account for a 24-hour period (after sending out respective tweets that this exchange would be taking place).

The most interesting observation for me came from Rice:

One of the first things I noticed about using Twitter was the lack of history or the speed which people forget (or perhaps they hadn't paid attention in the first place).

It was my first experience of how instant and transient Twitter can be.

In other words not only is Twitter "all about the Now" (think of some of the tweeting habits of many users) but also it entails an emphasis on the Now that excludes the Then, so to speak. Put another way, anything that is not currently happening is no longer relevant, which seems like a slightly more convoluted way of saying what Henry Ford said (not that anyone remembers this in the Twitter Age), "History is bunk." Worse, this attitude probably only matters to those who still think there is value in an understanding of history! So it goes (as one historical reflection put it).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've heard something like this many years ago, but I'm too poor at scholarship to recall where. In the West, generally people think about the future; in the Middle East, people reflect more on the past (I would presume these observations could be grounded just measuring the time/intensity/consequence spent thinking one way or another). As to zen-like thinking only of the present, I'd guess that is orthogonal to these modes.