The Future History of Everyman ~ by Marj Ivancic


DEFINITION:
      his·to·ry /ˈhist(ə)rē/ the study of past events, particularly in human affairs

     When most folks hear the word “history,” they think only of legendary individuals. It’s understandable, for we are taught about past events through the stories of the big-name players. But the truth is, neither the notorious nor the beloved rose to fame in a vacuum. They were a part of a larger world, one cog in a bigger wheel.
     In order to show their subjects in the true light of their times, historians spend a significant amount of time learning about the world in which the famous lived. These curators of the past dig

through mountains of information pertaining to the Average Joe in an attempt to understand the motives that drove William Wallace and others, to see the impact of the decisions made by Rosa Parks, or those made by the Tecumsehs.
     Public records and publications such as pamphlets and newspapers account for some of the information, but the most treasured sources of evidence are of the personal variety—the letters, journals, and diaries of what I will affectionately call the “Everyman” (named so after the anonymous 1509 allegorical morality play called “The somonynge of every man”).
     
These documents contain not only details of the drudgery that filled the hours of the calendar year, but also the oral history of a generation and the ones before. They captured the private conversations and the hushed opinions. They recorded the tales not likely to make it into the gazettes or magazines.
     However, sociological and technological changes over the last hundred years or so may have an impact on the gathering of that Everyman history going forward, possibly altering it all together.
     To begin with, studies are showing that more and more women are like me—choosing not to have children. In fact, I personally know six women who are in the same circumstance for one reason or another. We have no one to pass on our stories or the ones we heard from our parents and our grandparents. They will die with us.
     Some of us have nieces and nephews we’re close with who might be our portals into the future, but that leads me to the next cultural shift—how much time do we actually spend sharing those
stories?
     Until the 20th century, multi-generational homes were the norm. Parents spent their final years living with their children and grandchildren, under the same roof. In addition, elders held a position of respect; when they spoke, the family listened. It was the ideal environment for oral history, and it thrived. However, today’s situation is a bit different. 

     For a variety of reasons—increased life-span, increased complexity of health care, changing family dynamics—our elders are living in nursing facilities surrounded by strangers. Gone are the days of sitting at their feet, night after night, listening to them sharing the past, seeing events through their eyes.
     Add to that the changes to the entertainment landscape and the advent of T.V., Netflix movies, video games, and virtual reality. Nowadays, after the sun goes down and the work day is done, there is so much more to do than swap stories. But these are all in-the-moment activities or require full attention on whatever is happening. Deep conversation has no part in them.
     But let’s play the hypothetical game and pretend all the old social norms are still in place. We still have the technological advancements with which to contend.
     Prior to Mr. Bell’s telephone invention, when Big Sister moved out West, the only way Little Sis could correspond with her was through letter or maybe even telegraph, i.e. written communications. How many of us write letters today? Oh, I know there’s email, but how many of us are printing those email chains?

If we don’t do so, they live on the servers and databases of the host companies, and ownership of that data is questionable—is it ours? Or theirs? And what happens to it? Most companies have data retention policies that purge the old to make room for the new. Space is important. Just look at the “social” media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. They’re built for brevity, for the quick message.
     The other issue with tech-based communications historians face is the hardware/software dependency. For a college folklore class, I recorded interviews with my grandparents on cassette tape. Finding a tape deck now, in the era of digital downloads, is no easy task. I haven’t listened to those tapes in years. Computers used to come with CD players. Not so much anymore. And who remembers MySpace? See where I’m going with this? If we don’t preserve the medium with which to access the information, it’s as useful to us as rubber nails.
     So, what does all of this mean to the future history of Everyman? I really don’t know. I’m sure new sources that depict us in our day-to-day lives will arise, but I won’t be here to see them or their impact on how kids a hundred years from now think about us.
      Still, I think there are things we can do today to keep us from losing our place, to protect our truth. Keep a journal. Write a letter. Talk with the elderly about their life. Ask questions. Write it all down. You don’t have to be an author. You aren’t writing a novel. You’re carving your name in the backdrop of the greater world. You're telling the future.


“I am Everyman... and I was here.”

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for these wonderful reminders, Marj. I have been a hand-written letter writer forever. I love the art of cursive, which is not taught in the school systems any more. Everything is electronic...keyboarding, all students have computers or tablets to work from. It is sad in today's society there isn't room for both.

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  2. I know! Although I did hear that cursive is making a come back because they've figured out there's a relationship btwx cursive and retention or the ability to learn...something along those lines.
    I love to get letters in the mail. So much fun, opening the mailbox and seeing an envelope (that isn't a bill) with my name on it.. ;o)

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  3. What a great read and something we all remember. I think I am going to go buy a box of note cards. My granddaughter and I will fill them up and send to elderly relatives.

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  4. I do love to receive a handwritten letter, even though I rarely send one myself. It is almost a lost art.

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