The Profound Stupidity of the Present
Florida occupies a peculiar state in the cultural imagination of the United States. Through the gaze of newspaper headlines, it is a lawless, chaotic land. Florida is the kind of place where a man calling 9–1–1 to have himself deported is far from unusual news.
There’s an argument to be made that most states are more like Florida than we’d like to believe. The argument hinges on a little-known piece of Florida legislation called the Government in Sunshine Act. The act makes government records easy to obtain in Florida, and whole journalism careers have been built on its back. Kyle Munzenreider argues this exactly in an article in the Miami New Times, entitled “How Florida’s Proud Open Government Laws Lead to the Shame of ‘Florida Man’ News Stories.”
The lesson from Florida is that government transparency allows us a peek into what may be happening in other states. Twitter’s role in the future historical studies of the contemporary time will show that we are all living in the Florida state of mind.
Historical research until now, painting broadly, has been based on the documents and artifacts of the well-to-do, the uppermost class of society, the elites. These elites were often aware of the audience for which they were writing. Diaries, for example, were kept not only with the author in mind as a potential future reader but also a supposed biographer, looking to peek inside the mind of a person deemed historically important. What this meant was a certain level of narrative craft — an omission of unflattering details.
As literacy rates took off so too did ideas of “history from below,” and “history of the everyday.” Suddenly the idea of history and its actors was less reserved for the elite and upper class. The common laborer may not necessarily have had the leisure time to produce historical ephemera, but no longer did he lack the ability.
We are similarly on another tipping point of historical research. The Library of Congress is supposedly still developing a Twitter archive, although even that itself will not necessarily be needed for future researchers to see into the extremely profound ways in which some of us experience every day life. Magazines and blogs publish articles every day attempting to summarize what can only be called the “discourse,” on Twitter. Yesterday, we Twitter users were mad that someone suggested that not buying avocado toast would be enough of a change in spending habit to afford a house. Today, it seems, we’re about to be mad at the New York Times for publishing a very bad university commencement speech about “safe spaces,” and how college graduates must learn how scary the real world truly is.
While these may be perfectly fine things to be upset about (I am myself), these cycles of internet outrage may be readily available for future historians, who will have no choice but to confront something that may have been very easy to avoid in doing historical work until now: that we were multifaceted, sometimes moronic, human beings.
I do not envy future historians for having to make sense of it all.