Most technological breakthroughs were at first viewed with some magical, mysterious and rosy optimism and hope. They would solve problems and raise the quality of life for everyone.

This was the case with vaccination, electricity, microbial discoveries, X-rays, etc. In the thirties, when television was demonstrated in New York, it was sold as a bringing education and culture into the living room of every American home. One can easily imagine cynics saying that murder and mayhem and never ending celebrity and Hollywood gossip became the reality. And yes, atomic research and nuclear power were also touted at first as being useful for peaceful benefits but Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, etc. thoroughly demolished the original optimism.

No doubt there were impressive positive results from many breakthroughs. Nevertheless, history proves that all of human activities focuses on finding solutions to problems though most solutions will also cause problems.

The internet revolution succinctly exemplifies this quandary. It solved problems but also caused problems, especially in the crime sphere.

Among the lesser known results of the internet with its many manifestations is the fact that, lo and behold, conventional historical letter writing and photography, among other elements, will disappear as historical records. Unfortunately, that includes zillions of family histories and photographs.

Historiography, the writing of history, is often based substantially on letters written by prominent people like Jefferson, Lincoln, M.L. King, Gandhi, etc. Moreover, photographs and letters enshrine family histories. They tend to be passed on from one generation to the next and offer crucial insight into the thoughts and lives of our ancestors. They offer wisdom and education in very subtle ways.

Unfortunately, these pattern are vanishing since e-mail cannot compete with conventional historical letters and photography in terms of being stored and retrievable decades and generations into the future. Politicians routinely delete zillions of their e-mails and so do we all. Snapchat with billions of daily messages and pics deletes all within a brief period. Ditto for photos which get deleted if they overload our cellphone’s capacity. They are not stored in the traditional conventional way though we may print out a few to be saved in the historical pattern.

On top of this, conventional historical letter writing demanded far more concentration and thought than e-mails which reduce and diminish not just the length but also quality content. Beyond this and in subtle ways, the internet and e-mails add to our present state of hyped up global overpoliticization.

Brief messages in various pathways associated with our high tech gadgets, can easily whip us into a frenzy. They also reduce terrifically family conversations and lots of other traditional family activities when we spend hours per day staring at cellphones or computers.

At some point in the future, historical analysis will scientifically analyze who benefited the most from the global impact of the massive internet revolution. The chances are great that the conclusion will be: criminals, scam calls, political calls, celebrities and “influencers.” If so, it would show far less overall benefit for our quality of life. In the final analysis, it solved problems but also caused substantial ones.

Ottumwan Siegfried "Sig" H. Sutterlin, who has earned a doctorate in history from the University of Minnesota, is a former senior Fulbright scholar in Europe and retired history instructor at Indian Hills Community College. He can be reached at


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