For the first time in human history we're now in an era where a sort of time travel is commonplace. In Bach's Cello Suite #4 (BWV 1010), sound preserved by inky graphical notations scratched by quill pens on candlelit paper transforms into sound under the deft fingers of the great cellist Pablo Casals, seated decades ago in an entirely analog recording studio.
Those analog sounds are now traveling forward in time, long after Casals and the engineers around him and inevitable marketing department of his recording company have gone back to the Earth. Played on my twenty-first century electronic gizmos, the resonant sighs of his sculpturally human instrument are now digitized, even cleaned up, with tape hiss magically removed, newly balanced frequency responses added to the mix, and modern remastering polish applied over all, conferring nothing but freedom for the music to fill my room.
I have no idea if these words I'm writing will be read by anybody 300 years from now, although I have my suspicions. But the monumental efforts and inventions of those rare superhuman creators like Bach hundreds of years ago are now something of a cultural echo that continue to provoke thoughts here in the present. It's almost as if the echo comes first, as if we're hearing the sound of humanity's invention bouncing off walls from the past, before the vast numbers of humanity got born into comparative easy times for creating things. We select what moves us not only from the world around us, but from time, and even distant space. I live in 21st-century Maryland; Bach lived in 18th century Europe, Casals in 20th century Catalonia, Spain. There's no good reason we should be in communication at all except…there it is. Sure, the ideas in the thread-- Bach to Casals to me-- only move in one direction, but then the arrow of time also flies from the bow string in only one direction.
Everyone knows that our sneakers come from China, our grapes from Peru, our oil from the Gulf of Mexico. These are all expressions of our immediacy, are instantaneous ability to acquire precisely what we want and what we need. I realize this is an upper-class, first world observation; most the world needs much more than it receives, and certainly it receives much less than it wants. It would be callous to believe that first world cultural time travel was an entirely democratic phenomenon.
But as students of all ages now consider the ocean of educational options rolling in at their feet via online opportunities, it's essential to place the genesis of all these new ideas in the context of deeper time. None of us create anything just based on the experiences of our own lives. But as the ability to preserve ourselves is now easier, more powerful, more permanent than ever before, it's probably important to consider what kinds of echoes we may be leaving for students in some distant future to find.
Complacency in our digital assistants is a mistake. The fact that these extraordinary scores have survived across the centuries for me to hear Bach's musical transportations only amplifies the point. Imagine a world where those scores disappeared! Then realize that most of humanity's creative acts great and small have disappeared over the years for one reason or another, and it's becomes imperative to at least consider how our inspirations of today may be accessible to future generations, one way or another.
PS — Have something to say? Leave us a comment! Don’t want to miss the latest from 1AU? Sign up on our mailing list. (Cool email like ours is better than that boring stuff that clutters your inbox, right?) Consider yourself a fan? Please re-Tweet us, post to Facebook, or otherwise forward us to your friends. Cool? Yep: cool.