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Nikola Tesla, with his equipment
Wellcome Collection
United Kingdom

They used to say that history is written by the victors, but, in this new era of digital publishing and propagation, we’re creating our own records of our own lives, in an unprecedented way. We’re more visible to each other than we’ve ever been.

It’s only in the last couple of decades that humans have managed to assemble millions of things in one place. Sure, some of the largest cultural institutions in the world hold millions of things on their shelves or millions of specimens in their vaults, but recently we’ve seen a new proliferation of massive collections of online content on the web. Europeana is one of these new places. Instagram is another.

Contemporary digital platforms like Instagram have a curious advantage, because there, our history is born digital and born in the instant. Exploration often happens socially, and not through experts. Perhaps this makes it easier to see ourselves reflected, instead of as Other. We rely on social description and interconnection, instead of a solo professional’s description of something. This is a massive change.

Literacy remains a huge challenge, and that’s when our experts return. There’s so much to consume we need guidance. There’s a new cultural role called Influencer. Forbes Magazine tells us that to become an influencer, you need to find your niche - do something unique, create great content, engage with your audience, and look at the data to see if it’s working.

What’s exciting is that influence - whoever is causing it - can spread as fast as lightning. Look at #metoo. Look at how that is actively distancing itself from history. Look at how our many histories are being seen. It’s unprecedented.

The machines might notice a blip in traffic, but they can’t interpret the signal like we can. As Lewis Lapham wrote, ‘Computers scan everything but hear nothing.’ The challenge for cultural heritage workers is to transform from gatekeepers to both influencers and gatherers of more histories. The gates are already open.

Discover more perspectives on the future of digital culture from our ten cultural innovators