Retrenchment, Day 39

This morning I listened to a podcast attached to a Substack post, which I think will influence my thinking about my retrenchment and career prospects. It was a conversation between Caitlin Chin of This Does Not Compute and Jason Steinhauer of History Club. Steinhauer wrote History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past. I bought that book a few weeks ago but have not started it yet. However, based on this interview I think it bears directly on my current situation, so I'll probably begin it immediately.

The interview was only a half-hour long, which I actually found a bit refreshing. While I enjoy what has come to be known as "long-form" podcasting, sometimes it's a bit much. I don't mind listening to Lex or Joe spend three hours talking with someone really interesting like Eric Weinstein. But I don't think they should necessarily stretch every conversation out that long, especially if they run out of things to talk about. This chat was only a half hour, but it was crisp and had enough in it that I actually queued it up for a second listen, since I was still outside doing chores when it ended.
One of the big takeaways from it, which convinced me to start on the book immediately, was the discussion of the ways particular
social platforms such as Facebook "privilege nostalgia". The point is that this type of reverence for a very personalized (possibly even fictionalized) version of the past is just a stones throw from (and can easily be turned into) the type of historical "understanding" that can become a foundation for bad social or political choices in the present. And these fuzzy, subjective, perspectives on the past are not that amenable to evidence to the contrary. The Lost Cause in the South, for example. Or MAGA, suggesting that there was a time when America was better and we need to get back to those values, so we can...what? How was America better in the 1950s? For whom? Were the things that were going well caused by the factors we think?

These were all interesting ideas, hinted at in the interview (Steinhauer was circumspect enough to not actually say MAGA, I guess I'm not). The other fascinating element of the discussion was the speculation on what it means for people to "get their history" from their iPhones. In what ways does the medium affect the message? How should people who want to talk about the past (historians, but also social activists, politicians, educators) respond? How do we learn to meet people where they are, and use the technologies they are actually using, to communicate with them.

Steinhauer also made some interesting points about how the present tech is different from the past. Your newspaper or book didn't spy on you. This is an important difference. Add to this the message customization the web can enable, and boom! Filter bubbles. Lots of new challenges, in other words, to understand and address.

Link to YouTube: