Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Streaming History; Will we be Smarter?

Ok fellas, it's happening....Video is joining text in laying down an accessible version of history's first draft. The NYTimes reports that C-Span is in the process of finishing uploading its entire video record going back to 1987—and all that it has archived going back to 1979.

Now before you yawn and switch channels: this is a big deal. Really.

You want "transparency" in government? All transparency really calls for is having a good enough record to hold the people in charge accountable for the mistakes they make. CSPAN making this archive available in a freely searchable internet archive that allows anyone to stream the full record is an enormous step forward in transparency.

And a lot of the usual suspects like the idea:

Having free online access to the more than 160,000 hours of C-Span footage is “like being able to Google political history using the ‘I Feel Lucky’ button every time,” said Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host.

Ed Morrissey, a senior correspondent for the conservative blog Hot Air (hotair.com), said, “The geek in me wants to find an excuse to start digging.”

They've got a point; this means that everything, everything done on the floor of the House or the Senate and most of the major committee meetings going back a full generation are going to be available for free on the web in a form that allows us all to witness history directly. And it's going to mean that a lot of people, fairly and unfairly, are going to be held accountable for past actions.

Remember the old saying that "Hindsight is 20-20?" You're about to get a great view of a huge undigested glop of history that before now was either concealed by "the mists of time" or visible only through the lens of other people's interpretation. That doesn't mean, of course, that you will be able to understand everything you see, after all, we don't understand everything we see in the present when we are immersed in the context. History needs interpretation. In some ways History is interpretation. We are going to need to get a lot more sophisticated about understanding history if we are going to get full benefit...but this is one way; and a very important way that the web is making us more knowledgeable.

It will be up to us to make sure it is making us smarter.

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