The Future of Retrospective

Most of the internet is about the now, and getting even now-er. Why wait for people to upload concert pictures the next day when they can send them straight from their phone to Facebook? This trend will certainly continue, but lately I’ve been thinking more about the flip side: the retrospective, the looking-back.

Most recently, Andrew Sullivan’s excellent article “Why I Blog“, (hat tip to Feld) hints at it when he says

On my blog, my readers and I experienced 9/11 together, in real time. I can look back and see not just how I responded to the event, but how I responded to it at 3:47 that afternoon. And at 9:46 that night.

I’ve noticed this with Twitter as well, where I can go back in time and see exactly what I was doing and feeling a year ago. I also encountered it when backing up old email archives from 10 years ago and finding powerful emails from friends mixed in amongst the business chatter.

What’s interesting is that this fine-grained retrospective power is a New Thing.

For the last 3 years my Dad has been scanning his old slides and photos. He has now done over 13,000 of them, including writing captions for most of them. (He’s blogging some of them at Vern’s Memories)

That’s pretty amazing, but it’s nothing compared to the abundance of data that my generation, and especially the younger “facebook generation” will have! The other night at dinner my friends and I were joking about how our decedents will be overwhelmed with minutia about our lives (e.g. Twittering “At dinner, talking with friends about decedents being overwhelmed with minutia. Pork rib was good.”)

The only point here, if there is a point, is that current web tools kinda suck at the retrospective. That’s to be expected, because retrospective is impossible at the beginning. But when today’s kids are 75 years old and looking back on their lives — and most of the traces of those lives resides in twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and whatever New Thing is around the corner — you can bet that there will be a need for some better retrospecting tools.