History is often known to be the winners version of events as we had read in our poorly written school books. The voice from the other side, the subaltern have often been excluded, as the historian is often commissioned by the ruling elite to construct historiography of the phenomenon, event, era or time period at hand in manner that protrays the winner in a positive light. Data collection was a tedious affair and analysis of the data was a task of the professional historian, the preserve of the expert to connect the threads of the landscape of the past.
The statistical was primarily the realm of the state with the census as its core register. Assessing Government data sets were laborious and time taking. The world of government data is now real time, with geotagged locations and tablet enabled data collection as in the case of the 2017 Economic Survey in India, bringing in the tools of innovation in governance. Thermal heat imaging is used for estimating the homeless in the section on migration in the report. This datafication is a technologically turbocharged phenomenon. The satistical subject is now datafied, in an ever present post modern panoptocon, where his/her every development is coded, from the biometric Aadhar to how much he pays for his medicines every month through Paytm, since demonitisation killed the cash economy three months back. The survelliance is real, under the smokescreen of expanding the tax collection net.
The advent of the Big Data, Social Media and Analytics era where real time narratives are created every nano second and putting the maxim of journalistic writing as the first, rushed up draft of history to shame as every one with a smart phone, a data pack and Facebook/Twitter account is a prosumer of content. The smart phone is the erstwhile OB Van, as a former BBC Correspondent quipped at a future of journalism seminar in Delhi on 6th December, 2016 at the tony India Habitat Center.
The image is also no longer the realm of the documentary photographer with instagram recording our times, meticulously every moment. But, this recording of events in bytes is not decoupled with the politics of our time. P Sainath, the founder of the People’s Archive of India, a digital crowd sourced online archive of the soon to be forgotten arts and cultural practices of India says, that the online sphere is reflective of the fissures in real life.
Social media creates real time narratives of events and phenomena, and thus helps curate the emergent present. The digital is a reflection of the emergent present: a reduction, exposition and inversion of the present. Digital content is unmediated, although skewed algorithmically (the articles on facebook feed mirrors our likes and shares) is a battle ground for narrative warfare, a perception battle where there is ‘Fake News’, unverified prosumer content, which can sway actions in crisis situations in the real world. A Earthquake, aterror strike or an electoral victory, triggers an avalanche of data which is manufacturing the technologically mediated present. The digital is the force creating an emergent present, a modern that is constantly buffering in the background as new feed is created.
The archives of the digital, is the cache, while the cache grows every moment as the ‘present’ moves forward, with every tweet. The digital landscapes of the past has a sand shifting form, with articles from a decade back no longer available, i beg to ask: is this because the text online was not considered serious enough? Online platforms emerge, evolve and dissolve everyday, as they do not have the same media permitting demands as a printed magazine. The digital is killing the traditional printing star, to appropriate an adage, hundreds of journalists being fired as a freelance gig economy based on an app takes over.
As the Principal Economic Advisor of the Indian Government and Urban Theorist, once said at a prominent book launch last year in Singapore ‘I did not like how history was written in India, so one day i woke up and started writing history’
The role of the historian to sift through big data and make sense of an ever updating archive is the central dogma in framing of the modern subject. A modern subject is a digital subject, citizen and consumer rolled in to one.