If any year is destined to go down in history, it’s 2020.
One of the worst pandemics that the world has ever known forced us all into our homes, frantically scrubbing our groceries with cleaning products and refusing to stand less than two metres away from our loved ones. Protests erupted in numerous countries inspired by long-established, deadly racism and government oppression, leading to violent interactions between citizens and those expected to protect them. Bushfires tore across Australia killing around 500 million innocent animals, and intelligence agencies and hackers alike exposed networks of criminal activity, privacy infringements and even the existence of aliens.
Just as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the world through the interactions of unsuspecting infectious carriers, information about each unfolding situation quickly infiltrated all corners of the internet via the always active connections of social media. Moments after the news of beloved baseball player Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna’s tragic death broke in their home state of California, people across Europe, Asia and even Africa rushed to post and share their condolences and respects. News agencies in the United Kingdom had started to announce the lockdown and quarantine enforced in the Chinese city of Wuhan before local residents could even come to terms with how their lives were about to change.
While the internet may have been in existence since 1983, it’s usage and capabilities are ever-evolving and, with that, its role and significance in terms of history develops as well. While most will understand the benefits of the internet in terms of education and the sharing of information via blog posts, videos, website pages and even podcasts that can be made widely accessible to all, the concept that something as simple as sharing a live stream or updating a status actually creates history still feels rather alien.
When a bystander in the street films and uploads footage of a violent clash between a protestor and a policeman, chances are that they are motivated to do so by a need to seek justice, raise awareness, or perhaps even further a political agenda. The probability that they are thinking of future generations watching their clip to learn more about an important historical event of the past is no doubt significantly low.
When a young teen sitting in their bedroom takes to their blog to write about how boring and restrictive life during quarantine really is, the thought that one day their complaints may be read aloud in a class or used in a COVID-related project will surely never cross their mind.
Yet, this is exactly the possibility that we create every time we post a tweet related to current events or share footage of something remarkable that we witness. With every status, blog post or video, we are uploading history.
Sharing All Sides
The Black Lives Matter movement and associated protests taking place across the world have highlighted an issue that many of us were at least unconsciously aware of, but never gave much thought to: history favours the point of view of the powerful. In surreal situations such as that of North Korea, we have seen propaganda used as educational resources in schools in order to ensure that entire generations are raised loyally accepting a lack of democracy and moral autonomy. When it comes to the way that colonisation and the stealing of land from native citizens is taught in Western schools, such occurrences are typically portrayed in a favourable light, as though they were positive for all involved and that the displacement and murder of ‘uncivilised’ natives had been carried out with helpful, loving intentions.
With the exception of countries under severe censorship and dictatorship (although the creation of VPNs means that today information can make its way past even the most totalitarian regimes), almost everyone with internet access can freely share their opinions, thoughts and perspectives online via social media, blogs or other content hosting platforms. With over 6,000 tweets being shared every single second, the idea that anyone could ever police or check everything ever posted is utterly laughable. As a result, it’s impossible for any government, organisation or group to ensure that openly accessible information follows the ‘official’ version of history that they wish to present.
Type the word ‘matters’ into a social media search bar, and you’ll find content to match any possible viewpoint. Black lives matter, all lives matter, white lives matter, no lives matter…even if only one person has ever posted about it, then it will be there for you to find. Taking into account all of these potential perspectives and weighing up the similarities and differences in the way each person recounts an experience, you’ll find that ‘fact’ lies somewhere within a mix of it all. Just as all stories are said to have two sides, the same scenario filmed from two opposing angles may reveal just a bit more context than just one piece of footage from an approved ‘source’.
The result? The people of tomorrow will be granted something that our ancestors had no opportunity to give: a truly immersive opportunity to view history through the eyes of multiple average people just like them, with all accounts given an equal chance to be read, seen or heard. Used correctly, this could ensure that future generations can access ‘true’ history, unaffected by the whitewashing, censorship and propaganda that has plagued the retelling of events since records began.
What Lies Ahead
Of course, we all know and accept the drawbacks and negative connotations that surround modern social media usage. The freedom to post hate-filled or distressing content that could be harmful or corruptive to young minds will no doubt ensure that the issues of today will continue to spread to future generations. Gradual changes and developments in what is considered ‘acceptable’ and what is considered ‘wrong’ will create scenarios in which the normal, not-at-all famous people of today could be vilified and hated for their comments by strangers born hundreds of years after they share their opinions online. Perhaps less ‘dramatic’ yet no less noteworthy is the simple fact that our children and their offspring will be among the very first people to run the risk of finding naked, sexual images of their own parents and grandparents online.
When we consider how the internet was just 10 or 15 years ago and compare it to how it is now, we can easily comprehend how quickly technology advances and how rapidly issues that were so recently out-with the realm of our imaginations can arise. As the thin line between ‘reality’ and ‘virtual’ continues to blur and wear away, it’s impossible to know what developments and advancements lie ahead – or what they will mean for us and whether we will be remembered by history in either a positive or negative light.
No matter what the future may bring, there’s no denying that the internet is leading the way for a more open, personal and rounded record of current events, and it’s worth remembering that the posts we make today will be sure to last long after all of us are gone. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’ll leave for you to decide – either way, we’re making history, and I think that’s pretty cool.