[sixth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

State Department Historian Mark Howe brought up something quite interesting in his session with us on Thursday. He discussed how the federal government’s archiving system will have to figure out how to archive new forms of media—specifically email and social media. I’d never considered this before.

People are known to demonize new technologies. They may be rightfully skeptical of how a new technology will take the place of what they have now—if it will improve current technology or fail, and how. Howe said, for example, that historians demonized the telegram when it replaced hand-written letters; they didn’t know if and how to archive messages sent via telegram. Howe also noted that historians later demonized radio, television, and the internet for the same reasons.

Some people in business—as well as historians and society at large—are demonizing email and social media because we haven’t developed a sound, definite, consistent methodology explaining how to communicate/document/archive information. However, the massive shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is something we can no longer speculate about. It’s definite. The shift has already occurred. It’s therefore imperative for businesses of all types to embrace email and social media—after all, this type of shift in communication has happened time after time in history. From the Pony Express to telegrams, from radio to YouTube, it’s clear we’re capable of adjusting the way our businesses and agencies communicate to reflect the latest technology.

For historians, this may include a new software program or email plug-in that automatically archives valuable email threads. Email or comment threads may become valuable archived materials in 50, 30, or even 10 years. Those doing research on Barack Obama’s presidency in 2050 may be reading instant messaging records at the National Archives. We must not consider this “ridiculous” or “inefficient;” it’s a completely logical possibility. Perhaps the technology is too new for us to imagine this—especially since there’s not a traditional system for archiving text messages, chat sessions, emails, and Facebook comments.

It would be foolish for us to, at any point in our lives, become resistant to change and adjustment.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

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