Dark Ages

Throughout time, people have been fascinated with the concept of a dark age. Whether they are celebrating new beginnings or fear a collapse, the idea of society falling apart and then being put back together captivates our imaginations.

The most commonly known Dark Age took place in Medieval Europe, between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance. The story goes when the society of the Romans fell apart, all the information and technology they held essentially vanished from the Earth. According to some, the light of civilization flickered and died, thus making the name, “Dark Age,” appropriate in the popular mind.

This is the standard way dark ages are said to occur. A societal collapse leads to a loss of knowledge that sets everyone back. It is very possible this could happen again. The plethora of doomsday theories and collapse scenarios popular right now support the belief in this possible future. I however, am beginning to fear the opposite. Instead of a dark age being caused by collapse and loss of information, I am beginning to worry  preserving our vast quantities of information will lead to a dark age of a different sort.

If any of our contemporary documents make it out of the digital abyss or the information cloud, Historians of the future are going to have a difficult time telling fact from fiction. There will simply be far too much information to sift through for any of it to be useful, especially when most of this information is useless in the first place. In two hundred years, a cruel professor is going to dump our Facebook posts and tweets and blog pages into some poor student’s lap and ask him to determine what 2012 was like. The student will be an old man before he gets through half the information dump, and will only be able to say that X number of people, “like,” extinct businesses.

Too much information can be just as hindersome as too little. We don’t have to go two hundred years into the future to be faced with this conundrum. Many services today give you essentially unlimited options for entertainment, but there are so many choices an actual decision is impossible. The would-be viewer ends up spending hours staring at the menu screen. This is the tyranny of too many choices. It appears to be supporting evidence for the possibility of a dark age of too much information.

In most cases though, dark ages really were not all that, “dark,” at all. It is a term applied to a period by people who did not live at the time. Calling a period a dark age, whether it is in the past or the future, is an excellent way of saying contemporary people are somehow more enlightened. Many claim that Medieval Europe was only called a dark age so the Renaissance people could feel special. Maybe people warn of a dark age in the future because they are afraid of change in the present.

Maybe I am just worried the things people seem to care about are less substantial than they were before. Stone tablets may be a bit anemic of information, but you know if someone took the time to chisel into a rock, he was probably chiseling something important. Then again, there is probably an ancient carving somewhere that can be translated to read, “Status update: Grog is carving on a rock right now.”