For our first blog post stemming from your “History in a Digital Age” responses, Lauren and Andrew reflect on the problem of passivity. Did you encounter this in your own exploration of the Bethel Digital Library or other digital projects? How significant is this problem?
On the homepage of The Lost Museum website, I was immediately greeted with a video introducing me to Barnum’s American Museum and immersing me into its mid-19th century world. All I did was click on a link and history fell into my lap. This simple action demonstrated what Cohen and Rosenzweig called passivity, and it is a unique attribute of digital history. Cohen and Rosenzweig present this attribute as a problem, which I agree with, but I also would assert that the passive nature by which information can be presented on the internet can also have positive implications. Since the internet has become popular and accessible, I feel like the mistrust and distrust of its contents has as well. Cohen and Rosenzweig mention that because of the wide accessibility of the internet and the ease of producing content on the internet, there is much more potential for inaccurate history to be received as truth. However, I would argue that most contemporary web surfers are more skeptical because of this, therefore passivity has become less of a problem of misinformation, but rather an incredible method of inciting interest.
– Lauren Gannon
Cohen and Rosenzweig’s idea of passivity is also apparent through both the [Bethel Digital Library historical] photograph and [Bethel at] war collections. While it is great to have easy access to such materials, as a viewer, there is an increased risk of passivity and not taking the time to evaluate the work with independent thought. This is particularly evident in the photographs collection. It is far too easy to passively click through each photograph and read the short blurb about it without giving the piece an original thought. Viewing a photograph in person, requires the viewer to think and interact with the piece, instead of clicking to the next one without thought. With the Bethel at War collection, the risk of making simple conclusions is tempting. A discussion on the morality of war has a complicated answer that is not easily summed up in a yes or no. A digital history project, if viewed passively, can convince a reader that there is a black and white answer if the information shared is too one-sided or opinionated.
– Andrew Zwart