The impact of Web-based media on history

Posted on July 18, 2010 by

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Looking back at my blog activity for the last two summers, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my blog posts are infrequent over the summer months this year… even more so these days, having started a new job in June. Still, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking history… and the Web. The Web part seems to dominate my thoughts since my last blog post and probably reflects a yearning that I have to get back to discussing a little more about digital history. In particular, recent thoughts are heavy as to how reading history-focused content on the Web may be impacting our level of deep thought about history.

Speaking of deep thought and how the Web is changing our ability to think deeply… within the last month, I caught an episode of the The Colbert Report, and saw his brief exchange with Nicholas Carr about his latest book, The Shallows. I grabbed a copy at the local big-chain bookstore (rare, considering I am typically a tight-wad when it comes to purchasing books, and prefer to purchase them online), but haven’t gone very far in the content. So far, it’s, ummm, ok, but it just isn’t grabbing me like I thought it might. Reading some of the comments on Amazon, I have to agree with one, that I think I would have found it more interesting (at least from what I have read so far) if he incorporated more about cognitive psychology. Maybe he does further into the book… we’ll see.

Still, it isn’t a total loss as it is one of the few things (at least the premise behind the book) that has kept the wheels of theory turning in my head (oh, how I miss the classroom and discussions about theory and writing for the Web!). In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to withhold final judgment on the book until I’ve finished reading it.

Bottom line… with discussion here and there about the impact that social media and Web technology have on the classroom, are we forgetting about how reading the Web is changing folks and the way they satisfy their appetites for history? Do we understand how this brings with it a significant reason why historians need to take a good, long look at content delivery, and how we need to adjust it to reach an even larger audience than that which existed… in previous years, focused entirely on print media? Before those who are already sold on the idea of digital history reply that this is a no-brainer… think hard about what this all entails.

I have no doubt that reading the Web as the main source for information, many of us are being “rewired”. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think we need to be aware of how “the machine” IS changing us… and how we need to adjust our delivery.

Give it some thought… and (for those who have remained, and/or have subscribed to blog posts here) stop back by. I’m not done with this one.

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