Someone challenged me recently about my interest in historical things and firm belief that we can learn from the past, we have to learn from the past and we should learn from it. He thought that once it’s gone, it’s gone.
However, various wisecracks have said that if we don’t learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat it over and over. And we learn from the past that we actually DON’T learn from the past.
But the fact is that nobody is completely free of carrying round the baggage of our younger days, happy or not. We are all prisoners of our own eras. And what we have today is because of what we had yesterday.
Just as I published the story of Doug Engelbart, who died in early July, and was the acknowledged inventor of the computer mouse, up pops somebody to contradict it.
Retired Professor Ralph Benjamin worked on radar tracking systems for warships in the second world war and says that in the 1940s he came up with a device when in the Royal Navy Scientific Service.
The Admiralty was not concerned about turning its work into profit or further business, it just wanted to defend our own ships and sink the enemy’s vessels. Benjamin says he came up with a form of cursor or ‘mouse-like instrument’ on a display screen.
It was actually patented in 1946, but was kept secret. Till now, till the American inventor died. It is presumably easily verifiable by checking Patent Office records in Britain.
But the point is that sometimes history can be more than just a range of facts. It is about people, and what they did or didn’t do and what is remembered, wholly or partially accurately.
Back to the Future In Moscow
We’re so full of futuristic, speed technology, that this next news item may be hard to believe. But it seems to be true.
This July it has been revealed by somebody at Russia’s Federal Guard Service (which protects Putin and Kremlin communications systems) that they have cracked how to beat the hackers, the leakers, the whistleblowers, the wikis and the prying eyes of media and enemies. Not to mention the eyes of their own sometime disillusioned citizens, presumably.
But they are spending money on buying electric TYPEWRITERS to produce paper documents!
Fed up with the vulnerabilities of online communication, they feel that paper and typewriting will be far more secure.
With the ability and sophistication of people to extract data from computers, devices and whole systems, a Kremlin source said they were liking the idea of ‘a hand, a pen and a typewriter.’
As one disgruntled expert (perhaps with vested interest in digital technology) mumbled, ‘paper documents can still be stolen, photographed, copied or go up in smoke.’
Somebody could eat them as well, don’t forget.
It’s a great idea which could spark a whole flurry of old things brought back into service in the interests of security. Payphone boxes, assistants serving customers one by one in a shop, petrol pump attendants, staff on every railway station, a conductor on every bus. People physically working on factory lines.
And not knowing everything about everybody all the time at the click of a mouse, whoever invented it.
Past blogs that shed some light on the now:
Forward to the Past as Polaroids Make a Comeback, 25 March 2013
How Technology Serves the Past, Present and Future, 14 September 2012
Will Your Digital Afterlife Make a Good Novel After You Are Dead? 10 September 2012
Last Post for Britain’s Post? 21 June 2012
Diaries Are Still Kept, But Now Online and Not So Secret, 7 February 2012
Image: Kathryn Greenhill