What will happen to digital history when it moves off the desktop and into the handheld device? The day of the migration from desktop computer to handheld portable device is closing in on us fast, but will it transform what we do with digital history in the same ways that the migration from CD-Rom to the Internet changed what we do?
What makes me think this change is in the wind? For me the most important indicator is the amount of money corporate America is betting on the shift to the handheld device. Apple Computer has placed a huge bet on the new iPod with video capability and TiVo To Go hit the market shortly thereafter. And the telecoms are all planning on streaming lots and lots of video content to your phone (thereby using up lots and lots of the minutes on your service plan). The complaints I’ve heard are (a) the screen is too small to see much and there isn’t much content available. I suspect there won’t be a lot done about screen size, although the resolution is fantastic on the new iPod, but the content will start flowing pretty fast.
What does this mean for historians interested in the digital presentation of information.
Imagine this first scenario: A visitor to the Manassas Battlefield National Park stops in the park’s visitor center, plugs his or her iPod into a download station pops in the ear buds and sets off on a walking tour of Chinn Ridge, the Old Stone Bridge and other landmarks of the two Civil War battles there. Along the way, our visitor gets not only an audio tour, but is able to see historical images from the various stops on the tour, can access texts such as letters home from soldiers who fought there, or can download entire documents to read later at home.
Scenario number two: A visitor to the National Gallery of Art stands before Renoir’s Odalisque. In addition to listening to an audio tour, our visitor sees on the handheld screen smaller pieces of the larger work to focus on, can click over to a different work in the same orientalist style for comparison, can read something Renoir wrote about the work, can trace its provenance over time, and can download more information for later perusal.
Scenario number three: A student visits the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum for class. Standing in front of a 1930s photograph of a German woman wearing a sign that brands her as a race traitor because she slept with a Jewish man, our student can then access the Museum’s digital library of other such images, can read accounts of women humiliated in this way, can download documents for later research and can read postings in a discussion forum of other students who have stood in that same spot in the Museum.
These are just three scenarios that occur to me off the top of my head as I ponder what we might do when we take history off the desktop and out into the world. The possibilities are nothing less than exciting.