Historians are Big Snoops

More and more people are using social media as a method of communicating with each other and their ideas every single day. We know that these ideas are being recorded by the companies, and the information could potentially be used for research. Some of this information is considered “private” information, while others are very public. I was struck by Lev Manovich’s assertion that the digital footprint of people on these social networks should not be considered authentic. Historians already deal with that notion, as they have had to compare the private and public thoughts of many people that are constructed through private letters and public declarations of their feelings and beliefs, and often times, these ideas do not coincide. 

Historians go through private and public information to demonstrate an argument regarding a historical event or figure (amongst other things). We use private data, such as letters or diaries, to formulate these arguments. Those letters or diaries were not meant for us to read. They were the private thoughts and communications of an individual. As many of you, while doing the readings this week, as well as our ongoing discussion of information on Facebook, I started to wonder…how is this concept any different from what we already do, besides there being more of it? How does having data from millions of Facebook users change what we do, or how could it? It’s interesting to think about, and it will be something that we and future historians will have to tackle soon. 

4 thoughts on “Historians are Big Snoops

  1. Pingback: Historians are Big Snoops | Clio Wired

  2. sandanis

    The difference might be in the pervasiveness of the performance. When you wrote a letter or a diary in the past, you could expect some degree of privacy. Your letters and diaries were not, unless you were very prominent, likely to be exposed to public scrutiny. These days everyone basically has to assume that what they do online is visible to someone, somewhere, and can be stored and accessed later. I think this means we’re usually more hesitant about saying what we think in what are, at first glance, private forums. I know a number of people who try to obscure their Facebook profiles or who, like me, purposely sanitize what they post because they can’t be sure who will wind up reading it. I think people tended to a greater level of candor in their written correspondence, since the letter was basically as secure as the recipient on the other end.

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