As someone who has spent many hours reading old letters, diaries, and journals, I waxed nostalgic--briefly--about the demise of hand-written archival material. I thought about the letters of Susan LaFlesche, the first American Indian woman doctor. Her sloping handwriting described the trials of her medical training; her pride at standing firm during surgery while a male student fainted. I remembered a diary I read at our local historical society, written by a 12 year old Vermont farm boy, whose syntax and vocabulary helped me find the voice of an 18th century narrator. What would be lost if people no longer put pen to paper?
And then, a friend mentioned that she has never deleted over 10,000 received e-mails. I thought about Wiki-leaks, releasing a tsunami of e-mails about our two wars; about kids who send thousands of text messages per month; about voice messages piled up on my own cell phone--and my heart quailed. Is this a historian's dream, or nightmare? Will we go crazy, sorting through an avalanche of e-mail posts, texts, phone conversations--and yes, blogs like this one--in search of the telling fact or detail? Is this the true meaning of "too much information?"
On the other hand, there are advantages to this brave new world. My current novel takes place in 2004 (already ancient history to some readers). I was thrilled when my friend Jack Burrage sent me to a website with the complete record of every Red Sox game from that fabulous year.http://bit.ly/9CfiLW In one quick e-mail, he saved me hours of digging. So maybe this isn't an either/or situation--but it does leave me muddled.