I watched a programme on BBC 1 this afternoon about Vera Brittan who lived during the First World War. It was not my thing really, but I was ironing and there wasn’t much else on. What struck me, though, is that the whole life story of Vera Brittain was based on her diary and letters she had written or received. Of course they were all on paper. And that got me thinking. We know a lot about a lot of people in history from their diaries and letters, but I’m not going to leave the same sort of legacy to historians of the future (not that they’d be that interested, even if I did:-)

My diary, such as it is, is here. What will have happened to to all of this in 100 years time? I don’t write letters on paper any more. All of my communication is electronic in one form or another – email and phone mostly, but also on twitter, Facebook and other systems. Apart from email, which I can have a reasonable stab at preserving myself (I have emails in my collection from 25 years ago, already), I’m pretty sure the rest will have long gone 100 years from now.

Are we making the job of the 22nd century historian much more difficult? Is anybody thinking at all about how all of this electronic history may be preserved for them? The more I think about it, the more I think we’ll leave very little information about us to generations to come, and I can’t help being a little worried about that.



  1. On the way home from a weekend away which turned out to be quite bizarre I listened to a pogramme on Radio 4 which was about coping with clearing out parents belongings from their home after they’ve died. It was one of those programmes that we didn’t mean to listen to but just happened to be there at the time but it turned out to be very interesting if a little sad. I could relate very well to one persons story when she said that she had no problem getting rid of most things except when it came to photographs and anything written in the hand of her mother. The things she came across that her mother had written down, no matter how banal, represented to her the essence of that person. I imagine I’d be the same if this task ever fell to me as material possessions have never held much value in my eyes but something written would be quite precious.

  2. I can’t believe I said pogramme, my children used to say that when they were little…”Can we watch that pogramme, Mummy?”

  3. Karl McCracken @ 2008-12-04 14:35

    You don’t need to worry – GCHQ have copies of all your communications – paper, electronic and verbal. And just to make sure it’s safe, they share this with the NSA, and the FSB conducts an ‘informal’ backup service for them.

    Paranoid, me?

Add your comment below