myopic hindsight

I’m reading Lawrence Lessig’s  Free Culture on my iPhone (I enjoy reading on my iPhone, do you?). He makes the interesting comparison of the pre-WayBack-machine internet to the newspapers in Orwell’s 1984, which are constantly edited to conform with the government-sanctioned version of the present.

I love this early sci-fi image: “Thousands of workers constantly reedited the past, meaning there was no way ever to know whether the story you were reading today was the story that was printed on the date published on the paper.” I imagine the workers all as women dressed in the same drab grey uniforms and grey headscarves and no facial expressions.

There are ways around the WayBack machine, actually, which any savvy girl can figure out without too much trouble. Suppression of history is still totally possible.

But with older technologies, like, say, paper, there are other, more primitive ways of altering the public record.

A couple of years ago I went to visit my mother-in-law, who seemed very happy to show me a number of family albums.  There was something strange about them. In many photos a person had been cut out. She had excised all of the pictures of my husband’s first wife, and when I asked her why, she said that she hadn’t wanted to offend me or hurt my feelings.

I found this quite bizarre.  It wasn’t as if I hadn’t known that my husband had been married once before he married me. I don’t understand the sort of family culture of denial/secrecy that would drive anyone to bowdlerize a photo album.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a Jewess? I like my history all up front, unretouched, and in plain view.  Else: condemned to repeat, and repeat, and repeat….

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