Philosophy of History in the Information Age

The newly achieved ability to store information ad infinitum is a game-changer. What counts especially is the data retrieval capability. With a little vigilance and application, history can be recorded to the last nana-detail even as it is in the process of occurring, and it can be retrieved instantaneously not only in copious detail, but also in a structural complexity hitherto unimaginable.

Where Do We Go from Here?

It becomes necesary to consider the philosophical ramifications of the new situation, especially with respect to historical study as it has hitherto been practised. We stand at a crossroads where, looking back, the purpose of recording history was singularly vague and the results sometimes of doubtful value, and where, looking forward, the source record of history will automatically be complete, barring accidental erasure of data or human failure to institute appropriate storage policies. The problem in the past has been selection of information for preservation, not only from the standpoint of the limited ability to store, but also from that of deciding which data to store when no clear idea of the future place or shape of history could be achieved. The problem of the future, conversely, is finding ways to deal with the ever accumulating mound of data having some claim to historical relevance.

Past History

Having acquiesced in the necessary separation of spheres – the imperfectly recorded history that is now entirely in the past, and the present and future history that in theory will be perfectly recorded – we are faced with a past history that has somehow ended. We can think if we wish of the present and future as quasi or virtual history: it presents in any event a set of circumstances requiring entirely different attitudes and responsibilities of the historian. Past history, though real, is a strange concept indeed, and it too calls for some alteration in hitherto prevailing attitudes, since from our present vantage point it is far less organized and purposeful than it appeared even a few short years ago.




...history is a work in progress...