So a friend showed me something today that has got my head in a complete spin, you can change the date of a tumblr post to move it back or forward in time – what! Is this a Nineteen Eighty-four scenario? Is the era of the Ministry of Truth finally upon us, manipulating our data, giving us the power to change the past?
Ok so some of you may be aware of this phenomenon already, you may even use it (if you do I would love to hear why) but I personally am quite perplexed by this discovery. In my head, it is upsetting the ‘natural order of things’ to be able to change when something happened, even something as supposedly insignificant as one post of billions (18,337,035,668 to be exact) on one of over 46 million blogs (stats accessed from: <www.tumblr.com/about> at 00:22 GMT on the 27th February 2012) but it surely counts towards something, and means something to some degree to someone, else why would we do it?
Now I know that I can’t necessarily trust the dates I read on here to be correct, something I read dated today could in-fact be something that came into existence a year ago or more! But yet I trusted it to be so to begin with… why? It’s just a number on a screen. I trust it because it is a method of cataloguing and to make sense and do what it is designed for it should follow logic, an ordered structure. The date on a blog post is part of the greater structure of time itself, the greatest structural network I believe we live in. Without a method of keeping a track of our measurements of time, if all the clocks in the world suddenly broke, I think the world would degenerate very rapidly. When Robinson Crusoe, in the famous story, is marooned on an island, the soul survivor of a shipwreck for “eight and twenty years, two months, and 19 days.” but he stays sane because he knows this. His keeping track of time keeps him from madness, keeps him human. We rely on it and we trust it. We go to bed at night and trust that we will not lose or gain an hour as we sleep (except for when in the UK we have our “daylight saving hours”), we read a newspaper and trust that date on the top is accurate. Although we know that what we read will not necessarily have been written on that date. Sometimes articles can be stored up for a long while for when they need a ‘filler’ piece, something lighter perhaps to balance the paper. The date is a publication date not a written date, and we accept we will never know the real date behind the print. The ‘back-dating’ of posts could allow people to post on the day of writing, perhaps if they are away from the internet for a while, although should this be clarified? Not having order, regulation or clarification could I think potentially lead to confusion and possibly misinterpretation.
There are other dates we read and accept are less likely to be accurate. If we read graffiti for example that claims to have been from 20 years ago, we do not immediately think “Shocking! These toilets haven’t been re-painted in 20 years?!” we accept that the source is unknown and therefore not reliable. We do not know our fellows on this site a lot of the time, why would we trust them to be accurate? Ah, but we trust the ‘overseers" of Tumblr, is it not their duty to make sure the posts we read are correctly dated? On a site such as Tumblr this would of course be near impossible to enforce. There is such a vast array of different media being posted and re-posted every minute of every day that we accept I think, a lot of the time, that what we are seeing could be from any time, or any place and it does not tend to influence our understanding or accepting of whatever image/ poem/ quote etc. we are looking at. Sometime, if we a re curious about it we can trace it back on Tumblr, or seek out the original source elsewhere. There is so much information however that sometimes it is just impossible, meaning is lost.
So why does it matter to me? I am a firm believer that context is of crucial significance to everything we say or do; we are all products of what surrounds us. Often whatever we say could, if taken out of context have a different meaning entirely. So when we post, we are responding directly to and further contributing to someone else’s context, even if we do not realise it. It is a chain of events. To take something out of that chain would be to break it, and make events meaningless data with a contextual ‘missing link’, like breaking up and removing part of an equation or leaving an ingredient out of a recipe.
Sometimes we are fully aware of a context and make full use of it, for example we had Valentines Day recently; you acknowledge the day (if you chose to) by doing something different that marks it, like giving a card or gift, having a meal, going out of your way to see someone, writing a poem. Doing these outside of the day, they would still happen just the same but the context of the day changes the meaning, it offers a reason for events and a different interpretation for an observer to these events. Sometimes, the context of a day is not clear yet. We may do something that takes significance later in retrospect, for example the date you first see someone random you don’t know at a party, insignificant at the time, could turn out to be the day you first met your husband or wife, a date that will have meaning to you in the future through this context. Sometimes, in the study of history for example we rely on the study of the context to reveal meaning in something like a text or an artefact. If a date has not been recorded correctly, or if records had been tampered with, this meaning would become detached or misinterpreted. This is why knowing when to trust a date is accurate and when not to is so important.
I can whole-heartedly promise you now that I will not be using this ‘tool’. I think the existence of such an option can only lead to manipulation, which feeds distrust and in the extreme long-run, a break down in the time structure of the world. I will honestly press the “publish now” button and let all the contexts that surround writing and publishing this at this precise moment in time, run their course. Ok, pressing it right…