Recording a Life Story as it Happens is better than Reflection

by Ian

in Oral History

Maybe the only real history, is the one created as it happens.

I was reading in, Talking about Your Generation where researchers are endeavouring to understand the differences of generational groups. The baby boomers compared to generation “Y” and “X” etc, to grasp the real, rather than just the perceived differences.

How accurate is reflection?

I’m wondering if this is really possible… ? It’s valuable research for sure and a far cry from the spin of marketing experts, who like to pigeon hole entire groups within our community based on things as flimsy as birth year. But can we really see the differences between groups simply by asking them to tell us the stories of what they remember of their life?

I’m sure there are differences between generational groups, some of them may be huge differences that lead to upheavals within the culture. Examples like the ’60’s, every revolution in history and possibly even the Arab Spring uprisings, that we’re seeing at the moment but is reflection the way to see these differences.

The beatniks of the past

On an episode of Hard Core History with Dan Carlin, he mentioned the fall of the Roman Empire as being a time when the young were much like the Beatniks of the ’50’s. Everyone was fat and happy and there was plenty of time to philosophise and become dissatisfied until it all changed one way or another. This got me thinking that maybe we go through cycles of generational change through the ages.

The problem is, we have only in the last half century started to think of these things and compare generations.

Looking back we can see generational eras that are more representative of the social times than the years of the generational birth. In the last century we’ve had:

  • The serious years of WWI
  • Party years after the Great War
  • Depression and frugality of the ’30’s
  • Fear and pull-together of WWII
  • Rebuilding of the post war
  • Push-back of the ’60’s & ’70’s

The marketing generational model looks at similar eras as the reason for the personality of specific generations, but I think it’s more about the social/political/economic events, that is relevant.

Nothing changes, only the date.

Throughout history these social/political/economic cycles are repeated, so why wouldn’t we have the same cultural cycles in the distant past as we’ve had in the last 100 years? Was there a frugal generation during the 16th century or a hippy culture during the 18th? Maybe we did and if you look at some of those times you can see a shadow of that sub-culture within them.

As we look back we can see just the faintest outline that maybe these themes repeat but in only in the last 100 years we’ve managed to record our culture in detail never seen before but it’s only in very recent years that we’ve started recording the mundane.

Thanks to self-indulgent social media and digital technologies. We’re now capturing the culture as it’s being lived, instead of being reflected back onto as history. Is it possible for the 60, 70 or 80 year olds to tell of what life was really like, now that all those years have gone by?

Record as it happens

Sure it’s better to have a multi-decade reflection rather than nothing at all but if we really want to know what a culture is like, the best way to know it, is when it’s happening and capture it in the moment it’s lived.

The passage of time not only injures the memory but it also creates the filters to spoil the clarity of what it was really like. Too often we look at the past through rose-coloured glasses.

I applaud the idea to talk to people about their everyday past (after all that’s what this site is all about) but I think the real understanding of how we as a species live,will be revealed once we have more of the real-time journaling being recorded to be compare with other eras at some future date.

I have a feeling that the way we live today won’t be much different to the way they’ll live in the future or the way we lived thousands of years ago on the savanna of Africa.

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