There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who is getting frustrated with what is happening with Facebook. A few Facebook friends have posted notices that they are going to move over to Twitter for their updates, while others have indicated that they are bailing on Facebook (which is their only form of social networking) because of the changes. Granted, sometimes it looks like the what used to be the News Feed has had a wee bit too much caffeine (whoosh–there’s another change!). I also know that I can’t just go to Twitter; very few of my friends are there, and I do enjoy the interaction I have had in connecting and reconnecting with friends from school and work, current and former students, and fellow historians (and that doesn’t include the friends who I have met through a different type of network–you know who you are).
Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history. ~Joan Wallach Scott
Facebook and other social networks have revolutionized the way people communicate. As an historian, I wonder how future historians will be able to write a history of modern times because of the overload of information. I remember reading as an undergraduate how we never will have a fully “complete” biography of a president after Wilson because of the typewriter, which transformed record keeping and correspondence. Plus, there is the question about preserving this information. Who will archive e-mails? Who will archive Facebook statuses and comments? Who will archive tweets? And, if these (and other forms of social networking) are archived for posterity, will they be available in a format that will be accessible to future generations, or will they fall by the wayside like the eight-track tapes of my youth? Will they be perpetually wandering around cyberspace? If there is intelligent life elsewhere, what will they think of our society by reading our tweets, statuses, comments, etc.?
Meanwhile, I will continue to muddle on, trying to think what it would have been like if the technology today had existed during the 18th century. Images flash through my mind–parishioners tweeting during Jonathan Edwards’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”: “Spiders? I hate spiders!” (and, after being caught, being forced to wear a scarlet letter “T” for “tweeter”). 24 hour news coverage during the Constitutional Convention (this summer, I followed George Washington on Twitter, as he was “tweeting” from the Constitutional Convention). Facebook statuses talking about Benedict Arnold’s treason. On the bright side, maybe I finally would be able to write the book I initially wanted to write as my dissertation–except that the paper records did not survive into the 20th century, so the digital version probably would read “File not found.”
Incidentally, while I am occasionally befuddled by technological change, I do appreciate it. I still recall having to retype an entire chapter of my master’s thesis because of one editing change in the first paragraph, and I definitely appreciate being able to edit a document in Word before printing (and not having to retype the whole blasted paper). I like the ease of e-mail as a way to communicate and disseminate information, even if I get annoyed at some of the questions my students ask (and at some of the information administrators request). My classes are more dynamic because I can incorporate audio and video clips into the PowerPoint presentations (and my elbow feels a lot better now that I don’t have to write all that stuff on the board). At the same time, though, not all change has been for the better. When I registered for classes as an undergraduate, we would go from one table to another collecting keypunch cards, and once the table ran out of cards for a particular section, no more students could be enrolled in the course. Now, it seems like if there is a chair in the room, there will be a student seated in it, and sometimes it appears that the chairs spontaneously multiply on their own.
And, for those of you frustrated with the “new and improved” Facebook–just wait. It will change again. Change is inevitable; change in some ways is good. Change is also frustrating, especially when it comes without warning. Plus, on the bright side, it briefly got our minds off other things…
Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine. ~Robert C. Gallagher