Tuesday, June 21, 2005

TechCentralStation -- The Vivid Centuries


Thus, one day, perhaps, will our descendants look back on us in the early part of this, the second vivid century. We accept as routine the fact that we are familiar with the voices, appearance and mannerisms of entertainers, actors and public figures living and dead. Voices and faces -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Frank Sinatra -- live on in a new technological reality. Elvis Presley has made much more money dead than he ever did alive.

But we are not always as aware of how much the private lives of ordinary people are a part of this time-transcending techno-reality. We are surrounded now by rapidly advancing technology that -- for better or worse -- is leaving ever-more detailed, intimate, vivid records of the warp and woof of our lives.

In the first vivid century, the 20th, we had the benefit of the motion picture coming to full fruition along with sound recording. Movies, radio and television grew rapidly from the early-mid century onward, making it possible, even routine, to know much about the sights and sounds that were a part of our parents' and grandparents' lives.

This was an important departure from the "silent centuries" that had gone before.

These technologies have given us clues and more than clues with which to reconstruct the incidental ambience of daily life as far back as the early 1900s. They have put us in closer touch than ever before with social and cultural history at its most elemental and personal level.

Information is a wonderful thing. Think how it would be to have archived C-SPAN footage of the constitutional convention. A reporter's live coverage of Columbus's first landings in the Caribean. A recording of the Sermon on the Mount. Videotape of Moses leading the slave out of Egypt. Photographs of ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cities in their prime.

Practically every notable public event this century or the latter half of the last has been videotaped, and much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were photographed and audiorecorded. Before that, we rely on drawings, paintings, and written accounts. Much of what we think we know of major historical events like the Battle of Agincourt or the death of Julius Caesar comes from a fictionalized account written centuries after the fact. The scriptures of most major religions are second- and third-hand accounts written down decades after the fact. We don't even know what Jesus looked like, let alone what he sounded like or what exactly he actually said. And it's not just the big things; we only know bits and pieces of the details of our ancestors' daily lives; historians would kill for an ancient Greek's home videos (almost literally; Pomeii is regarded as a godsend to archeaologists, since volcanic ash preserved the city and its late inhabitants almost intact, giving us the closest thing we have to a snapshot of ancienct Roman life).

These are problems that future generations will not have about things that happen in our lives, provided they remember or can figure out how to read our formats.

Random side note on formats: the Voyager probes each included a phonograph record. There was no worry about format, since analog phonograph formatting is a direct analoge (no pun intended) of physical sound, and it stands to reason that any sufficiently advanced race, when presented with a flat disk with grooves in it, would know what to do with it.

It has been observed since then that Saturn's rings are a flat disk with groove in it.


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11:53 PM PDT  

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