When I was young(er), I’d always assumed that history was one solid subject with facts laid out in stone. Well, for one, I read about, archaeologists who dug up fossils (which literally means ancient animals and plants cast in stone). And my early educational exposure to history was through picture books describing exciting old worlds being unraveled through these people digging up dirt. The scientific stone gazers; diligent archaeologists and manuscript deciphering historians, I had assumed, just put into words, a sequence of events that the petrified, mummified or codified artifacts that were discovered, would have revealed to them. Big fancy words like carbon-dating only bolstered these, my early naïve perceptions.
Then as I grew up, I realized there is this thing called recent human history. This is something I got to un-lumpen (is that even a word?) much later in my life from the dig-em-up history of the de-petrify kind. This category of history I understood, was a chronology of events captured by someone ancient, either in spoken, written, sculpted or drawn-up artifacts and passed down from generation to generation (like in Chinese whispers), until it became solidified again in a recent language/ dialect and in an electronic or printed format that most of us (as in 21st century homo-sapiens) could comprehend. It is indeed very difficult, I realized, for us to actually individually cross reference and verify all this ocean of ‘relatively recent historical knowledge’ and to quantify exactly how much of the story was a verbatim representation of the original sequence of events and how much of it got lost in translation, while becoming someone else’s observation of the same. Even the first ancient observer who took the pains to record it for posterity, could easily have distorted the actual thing that happened, knowingly or unknowingly. History for me, thus became the story as told by him, the last reasonably trusted author to attempt his recital of the original truths.
Of course they did not have video-graphic recording technology back then that would enable us humans use our multi-media faculties to experience any recreation of the original events (like I can play back the birthday song we sang when our now-teenage-daughter had turned three, with just a couple of clicks). Interestingly, when the internet started to blossom, I had again, naively assumed that all this newfangled tech would surely help our generation to establish much firmer techniques to record present ‘truths’. Many generations hence, if and when our descendants (maybe sitting on planet mars or in some form of earth v2, if it manages to survive all the ravages we are heaping up on it) would try and see their history, it should become much easier for them (No diggin required my super-super grandchild, just close your eyes and let the brain-human-interface seamlessly transport you to any past time you wish!).
One of the effects of web 2.0 was to enable anyone with a connected computing device to create content on the fly and at costs tending to zero! However, as the last decade seems to have proven; Making everyone content creators resulted in an explosion of creative expressions of all shapes and sizes (like this post from me, for instance). Couple that with the rise of AI and its uncanny ability to recreate audio-visuals in stunning levels of realism. We are now in the time of peak fake news and a time where even popular opinion pieces can easily masquerade their own versions of truth! There are now multiple renditions of events in increasingly convincing audio-visuals that are tailor made for each audience!
I now realize that history was rendered neither by the stones, nor the manuscripts, nor created by those who dug them up! History is the product of those who held the strongest sway over public discourse, from time to time. Artifacts, archaeologists, and historians were nothing but mere props in the hands of those who wielded the power. The original truths even when set in stone, stand no chance before the might of time. History on the other hand is at best a very malleable interpretation of those original truths as experienced through a set of extremely biased filters on both the author as well as the reader. It took me decades to truly comprehend this!
Perhaps this is one phenomenon where blockchain technology might be able to get future humans on one (or maybe just a lot fewer) versions of the original truth? I don’t know for sure, but there is this great promise being shown in blockchain as a fundamental technology building block in an untrusted, computer dominated world. At-least the techno-optimist in me wishes to believe so :) There is of course an unwritten and hopeful assumption here that in the near future, we will get to a state of web 3 that is not saturated with the get-rich-quick-scams that seem to be pervasive today.
Perhaps then future humans would get to rewrite the noun history itself as a more nuanced word — thestory. One thing I know for sure is true: “all that glitters ain’t gold!”