Inspiration / Opinion

What is history?

This is something I’ve been considering since reading Andrew Schiestel’s excellent blog post concerning Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery and ‘the Power of Now’…

If there are any of you out there who haven’t read Andrew’s Schiestel’s thought-provoking post on the Power Of Now (which started this whole history kick running), check it out here.

What is history? Conventionally, I suppose, it could be defined as the study of the past using interpretations of texts, records, archives etc.

We study history to learn why things happened in the way that they do. And, crucially, to try and avoid making the same mistakes time after time.

But history changes with each new source uncovered. It’s not fixed, immutable. It changes.

Historically (irony duly noted), history could also be argued to be the story told by the winners over and above the losers. The victor in battle gets to tell the story, to take over foreign lands, to teach their interpretation of events.

And if you happen to be a feminist, you may argue to history is HIS STORY, a tale told by the men of the generations, which is why they always put themselves first.

History has always relied on a small number of sources to make its story understood. Only the chosen few could read, write or draw on a burial tomb’s wall.

Only the chosen few could produce something that would last the ravages of time. And only a few could afford to buy such things.

Which brings us to 2010.

Where there’s Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Xing. Bing. Blogs. Comment pages. Email. Books. Magazines. Newspapers.

A million different sources for a billion different people.

Tomorrow’s historians will have far more source material to look at than ever before. They will be spoilt for choice.

Which means two things.

One: They will be even more subjective about what they choose to use as their sources. It’s easy when there is only one copy of the Magna Carta and Doomsday book. Simple when only a couple of different interpretations of a religious text exist.

But infinitely harder when there are millions of Tweets and blog posts per day about the same thing.

So the parameters will have to be clearer. The information more cleverly sorted, sifted, categorised and processed.

The wastage may be higher. Will be higher as billions of snippets and trillions of words get swept aside for the useful few.

And two: History starts now. The story of today is being written in a billion different ways simultaneously. We no longer need to rely on the priests, the educated, the chosen few.

We’re all writing history.

History is now. Scary, isn’t it?

And the outcome of this? The point of what, up to now, must seem a particularly rambling post, even for me?

The point is simple. It’s a question.

If history is now, this moment, the instant a thought is conceived and put ‘out there’, what does your contribution look like? And how will your brand influence the course of events?


5 thoughts on “What is history?

  1. Brilliant post Neil. It got me thinking. In a lot of different ways.

    What I find fascinating about our journey through life is how the way we think changes. We hope, for the most part, the way we think continues to evolve.

    So the history I’ve written in the past, may not be consistent with the history I’m writing now. Yet, it is still me. This quandary exists with you, I, and even the most famous of philosophers too.

    The media, those looking for a fascinating (‘sellable’) story, and those looking to corner someone for strategic purposes (ie. political campaigning) will turn to history to try to discredit someone. They will look to history to find hypocritical statements.

    Those that are humbled, mature, and most of all sensitive to what the role experience has on one’s mind, won’t be as hasty to point out these discrepancies, but will embrace them as the evolution of one’s life, just like their own.

    What do you think?

    P.S. – I may write a blog article to build on this one. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

    • Hi Andrew

      Thanks for the comment and I totally agree.

      We change in line with our own unique experience and our personal history usually reflects that. Even the way that we interact with society around us will change through the lifecycle and through the results of our experience.

      In regards to your point about differing histories, yes, I see what you mean. We can become different people as the time demands and sometimes it is hard to reconcile the ‘then’ with the ‘now’.

      However (you knew that there would be a ‘but’) if we change through experience, had you not had the experiences you had ‘then’, would you be in the position that you’re in ‘now’? So although potentially at odds, the ‘then’ and ‘now’ are linked inextricably and form part of the wider whole – probably through some measure of causality.

      The media do love their juicy tales! Perhaps I’m cynical because of the role I currently hold, but I do feel that a majority of news outlets shift volume – not report ‘news’. There’s a subtle difference of approach between those and the ‘proper’ news outlets (broadsheets) – hence tabloidization.

      Sometimes there are parts of another’s life which surprise me – but I often then understand a change causation factor which has led them to evolve into the person I know today. The same is occasionally true of business and brands. For example, I wonder what BP will turn into now or whether they’ll bumble along in the same old path, just with better systems?

      Speaking of such things, the paywall debate – that’s an evolution with a direct causational factor. Just as one may change profession in made redundant, so The Times and others are switching to a new medium to cope with the digital wave.

      So in a few years, their stories will be different, but linked into a direct causational factor…

      It will be interesting to see how these things develop, and how we, as individuals, contribute to the wider history…

      PS – Let’s play blog ping-pong. That might be fun and take us to some really interesting spaces!!! In fact, it could be a study in ‘open-source’ idea development where input from blog followers could radically change the course of the conversation as it evolves… Now there’s a thought……….

  2. Back weeks ago when I replied, I was juiced about writing a blog article. I forget the thought thread that inspired me. It’s funny how inspiration comes and goes, eh?

    I do like the idea of blog ping-pong with you sometime. If something comes back to me, I’ll take a stab or maybe we’ll leave it for a different topic that sparks our interest mutually.

    Re: your comments above. I agree with everything you’re saying. It takes a mature perspective on life to know that you couldn’t get to where you are today, without the past. All of it for that matter.

    A wise man once said to me, “Everything that has happened to you up until now, is your ticket into your future.”

    I enjoy reading your blog Neil. Keep at ‘er.


    • Hiya – selective perception comes into an individual’s history as well to add another spin…

      Also had a really pithy story on this but it has slipped my mind! Doh!

      Re ping-pong: why not puck a place to begin, roll a dice to see who goes first then hit it?!

  3. Pingback: You are not insignificant. Deal with it. «

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