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Internet time capsules expose truth about ‘our’ generation

What has the Internet provided for future generations to study?

Elon Musk's proposal for Twitter users to be able to pay to be "verified" has caused confusion since his acquisition of the social media giant
Elon Musk's proposal for Twitter users to be able to pay to be "verified" has caused confusion since his acquisition of the social media giant - Copyright AFP/File Chris DELMAS
Elon Musk's proposal for Twitter users to be able to pay to be "verified" has caused confusion since his acquisition of the social media giant - Copyright AFP/File Chris DELMAS

Talking about my generation? Digital technology has enabled long-term data storage, and with it making the Internet an ageless time capsule. The question is: What will future generations discover inside our Internet’s time capsules? (Assuming they have the urge to explore, that is.)

Steffan Black, a Technology Expert from ZenShield, refers to this ‘opening up of the Internet’ concept as a “Data Legacy.” He explains to Digital Journal: “The Internet serves as a de facto time capsule for future generations, preserving our history in digital form.”

So much like any other historical record we might elect to review today, the Internet serves as an electronic document – a gateway into the past, a journey along the information superhighway – stepping into Baudrillard’s conception of hyperreality.

What has the Internet provided for future generations to study? There are many facts and documents but what about social trends and memes? From the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Harlem Shake, viral challenges have left an indelible mark on Internet culture, for good or for bad (and quite often ‘bad’). Sometimes these events unite people in shared moments of absurdity; at other times they are mechanisms for spreading misinformation or hatred. What reflects this age of post-modernism?

These seemingly fleeting phenomena, captured in our digital time capsules, reflect the whimsical nature of many online trends. As we archive these videos and hashtags will future generations appreciate their significance or dismiss them as mere digital fluff?

YouTube’s data shows that viral challenges have a lasting impact. For example, the “Gangnam Style” video still gets occasional views, proving its enduring popularity and cultural significance. These aspects of consumerism appear likely to survive. Other – once popular – phenomena are set to sink without trace.

Memes, the cultural currency of the Internet, have evolved beyond mere humour (or a Richard Dawkins rationalization of our genetic reproducibility), reflecting instead our collective psyche and societal dynamics. Expected to reach $6.1 billion by 2025, various visual relics from “Distracted Boyfriend” to “Woman Yelling at a Cat” unveil our quirks and obsessions. Again, for good or for bad.

In terms of the forgotten relics, do you remember Friendster? Or recollect the joys of MySpace? These once-mighty social networks now lie in digital ruins, discard relics of data. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram could well be scrutinized much like historians today mull over ancient city-states. Do the Internet giants of today foster connection or sow division? Did they amplify voices or drown them in an algorithmic sea? Were they a force for good or a social menace?

Though we cannot influence what future generations will make of our digital footprints, we can, perhaps, shape aspects of our data legacies.

According to Black, there are things individuals can attempt to do as much as the individual platforms will allow:

  • Be mindful of what you share online as it contributes to your personal digital footprint.
  • Leverage digital platforms to celebrate and showcase human achievements and pivotal moments.
  • Encourage open and constructive online discussions on social, cultural, or political issues.
  • Preserve significant digital content, such as historical records, scientific research, and artistic creations, for posterity.

These are useful pointers as we build a huge Internet time capsule. Our basic representations, reflections perhaps, of reality.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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