Tomorrow, I take part in a WGBH-Open Source show called “Attention Historians of the Future.” My “Pepys Project” argued that blogs will someday be used to reconstruct our life and times.
Jason Scott, the internet archivist, is all over this. He is capturing podcasts by the many thousands. Open Source producer, Robin Amer, asked me to have a look at a few of these. How, she wanted to know, might future historians use them.
First things first. Future historians will know and revere the name Jason Scott. They will build little shrines to him. They will name their children after him. Unlike the rest of us, Jason gets to be immortal.
1) Mark Johnson gives an autobiographical glimpse of his participation in the world of gaming that takes us from his childhood to the present day. Some of things that will jump out in 100 years.
1.1. what life was like before the internet. Most everything Mark knew about gaming came, in the early days, from other, very local, gamers. This vision of networks before the internet will be one of the most exotic things about us and one of the toughest things for future historians to imagine and reconstruct. Mark can help.
1.2 historians will pounce on Mark’s use of the term “geek.” In 100 years, they are going to be extremely keen to see how this term emerged, changed in meaning and valence, and how it helped form the self concept and community of some of the people who helped create the internet. Mark uses the term with pride and apology.
1.3 the challenge of this documentary work is for the “assume nothing” rule. This means listening to what one says and supplying an explanation for taken-for-granted terms. The further historians are from our time, the more extensive and intensive “archeology” they will need. Mark has a splendid style. It is crisp, clear, almost completely without ego, rich in detail, and architecturally well designed. He excavates well.
Still, there are moments when even the present day ethnographer wants to shout out, “For God sake’s Mark, give us more.” This happened especially when Mark talks about the advent of role playing games. We guess that this changed gaming extraordinarily. But Mark does not illuminate here.
2) Ron Brugler puts his sermons on line. These are interesting for a couple of reasons:
2.1 Ron is just about the most patronizing speaker you have ever heard. That people were prepared to put up with this when it was virtually banished from all other forms of discourse will interest. Was this the voice of sincerity? Did patronizing speech say that this was a man who “felt your pain?” What was going on here?
2.2 Ron appears to be engaged in a “how slow can I go” bicycle race, telling stories that just take forever. (Really, it’s like using a 56k modem again.) This is the exception that helps prove a rule: we are a culture that prizes pace. Why this sermon (and the church of Swedenborgian) is allowed to break the pace rule will be a nice little puzzle for future historians. (The answer may be simple. It may not.)
3) Free traffic tips from Tinu Abayomi-Paul
Our culture is extraordinary because many of us have seen the “man behind the curtain.” We have glimpsed the grammars of filmmaking, television, music making, etc. Almost all of us are hip to the codes of production.
But there will be places and people that do not evidence this cultural competence, and parsing who understood what and why, will be one of the ways historians will preoccupy themselves. Enter Traffictip.com. Whoa, baby. Here’s a woman who has a charmingly imperfect understanding of what makes this sort of thing hum…or not. (Again, why Tinu is indifferent to, or exempt from, prevailing rules might be illuminating or it might be banal.)
4. Radman talking about Ascii art and early computer music (chip tunes)
This is where Jason’s work really shines. The cultural production being talked about here is way, way off the mainstream and this is just the kind of thing vulnerable to the forces of neglect and entropy. This is the sort of thing that must be preserved. And there are some interesting moments that illuminate the state of our aesthetic categories as when Radman talks about a chip tune version of oye com ova as being really funny and really good (or words to that effect). I am pretty sure this is a aesthetic judgment (and its mixing of admiration and contempt) that did not exist even 20 years ago. Discovering it will be a future historian’s notion of a compelling thesis opportunity.
More from Jason Scott here
More from Mark Johnson here
More on the WGBH show here
Please forgive if there is a little choppiness in the next couple of days. I am moving from Movable Type to TypePad (Thanks to Dave Ely.)