The Future of the Past

Download Audio

Technological advances have given humans the ability to archive massive amounts of information into smaller and smaller places. But New Yorker writer Alexander Stille argues that although we are getting better at storing data, we are actually getting worse at preserving a sense of our past.

Progress is putting the past in peril. Globalization and homogenization are endangering as many as half of the world's languages. Pollution and tourism have placed many natural and man-made monuments in peril. Our heavy reliance on digital storage poses other problems. As old storage mechanisms become obsolete, information must be continuously moved to the latest medium or the data will be lost. Just try to find a computer that can read your thesis project that you have stored on an old 5 1/4 inch floppy disk.

Even beyond the problems of preserving information and physical artifacts from the past is modern society's inability to put the past in its proper context. In our desire to stay in touch with an increasingly distant past, Stille argues that modern society attaches its own dreams and mores to ages gone by, in effect changing the meaning of the past.

His new book "The Future of the Past" is ripe with stories of how different cultures and nations are struggling and failing to preserve and understand their history. This hour, Alexander Stille shares those stories and discusses the difficulties of developing a real understanding of the past.


Alexander Stille, author of "The Future of The Past"

This program aired on May 9, 2002.


More from On Point

Listen Live