Zac is busy at work on his latest commission, he's just had a conversation with the family concerned and he's already hard at it mining an archive. Sounds like any family historian, but the year is 2216 and Zac is not just a genealogist, he's a specialist Web-archaeologist. The holo-link blinks back into life and a slightly flickering image of an individual who passed away 100 years earlier is talking about their life and times as if they were in the room. It hadn't taken him long to find the lost file, after all he's an expert.
This was easy, the hard stuff is when people want Facebook and Twitter accounts retrieving - social media they called it back then! Digital platforms on long since defunct technology, which people used to use to communicate everything from the trivial, and boy there was plenty of that, to the announcement of Birthdays and other celebrations and far more serious stuff. Only the other day he'd come across an account of some bloke who was obsessed with getting his message across about something called Brexit, back in 2016 - 200 years ago! He didn't know much about Brexit, but it was clearly an important event.
The above sounds far fetched doesn't it? But I was thinking the other day about archives and the detective work I carry out trying to find information which will allow me to put more flesh on the bones of a family history for my clients. My thoughts drifted to how this work might change for a future genealogist or family historian. This led me on to all of the various social media we have at our disposal today and the vast amount of personal data stored about our everyday lives, from buying habits with Amazon to online social security and tax records. This would I thought be a veritable feast for the family history researcher. Imagine at this moment I could access a Facebook account from 200 or so years ago, what might I be able to learn of social attitudes, beliefs, political and loyalty affiliations etc.? Well quite a lot if you think about it, with what we all place on social media. So what might I see trending, well 1815 saw the Battle of Waterloo, with Wellington bringing to and end the Napoleonic Wars. I'm quite sure something of this scale would feature heavily and would be an invaluable insight into where people's attitudes and loyalties lay. I might learn about people who had lost loved ones in the battle and how this affected their stance. It's that individual level of beliefs and feelings that social media readily records for the future historian that I can only feel in a way jealous of. Clearly with this depth of information, it is possible that what the genealogist finds, may turn out to be a disappointment to descendants. Family myths are after all things that are cherished and indeed past reputations have often accounted for the future success of an individual or business. So with this increased access, would come an increased level of responsibility which the future genealogist would need to take into account.
Of course 200 years hence, technology will probably have evolved out of all recognition to what we have today. More importantly cultural and social attitudes will change to what we use technology for, and how we interact with it at an interphase level will be far more sophisticated and subtle. Therefore is it possible that the social media and other information sources we utilise today will be somehow archived, requiring the services of what I called above, a Web-archaeologist? Maybe, maybe not - its hard to say, as Star Wars Yoda himself said "hard to see the future is" even though he lived in galaxy a long time ago, but let's not confuse matters, back to work I think!