a to z: history

What gets remembered? What gets recorded?

The people who first colonised Gaia would have said, "everything", and they would have meant it. Their entire community had been recorded for generations. Even before they left Earth, the initial crew of the ship had been recorded giving eligibility interviews, recorded performing tasks needed on the voyage, recorded teaching others so they could pass the skills on to the next generation. There are thousands and thousands of hours for each person. The colony ship's storage cubes weren't even half full when the arrival happened, so important was recording to the colonists.

That's just the audio/visual/text entries. There's also all the measuring: the routine blood samples, the ID swipe required to gain access to any toilet so that the computer could note how much of what passed, and when. All food had to be checked out personally on a per-meal basis for anyone who wasn't a nursing infant — and their meals were measured too, either in time spent nursing or volume of formula consumed. Sleep was tracked. Insomnia was tracked. The amount of time spent at physical activity, spent reading books, spent watching or listening to tellycasts was tracked.

But it doesn't take too much reflection to realise how much was not recorded. There are no recordings of anyone's first kiss. There's no good way to know how often people would order different meals and then share them amongst two or more people — a common social practice impossible to disallow, no matter how much it annoyed the medical officers by distorting the numbers.

History, like cartography, must be filtered by its nature. Just as one cannot replicate a coastline down to the last pebble, one cannot record absolutely everything about even a single person's life, never mind the lives of hundreds.

That leads to the second problem: a filter distorts. Even making things sharper or more to-the-point is a distortion. And sometimes important details get thrown away as noise or mess.

Thus the idea behind Gaia 8: A People's History. The hope is that by letting all the messiness hang out, so to speak, but presenting these little snippets, people can learn more about the history of the colony and and the voyage that led to it.

The Gaia colony celebrates its 1,000th anniversary next year. There will be celebrations, but also reflection, and political decisions. All the more reason to look back — so that we know which way to move forward.