Posted by: Alli C. | November 11, 2014

Invisibility in the the 21st Century

A lot of our recent material in class – last week’s Cullwick and Mumby and the discussions of Thompson’s street life photography from several weeks before – is notable because is delves into the “less important” and thus less documented lives of the lower classes; we study this material because it offers some insight into how these other classes lived, worked, and loved. And we – or at least I – assume that this is a dead phenomena that no longer happens. But as I was reading the recent blog post on Humans of New York it got me thinking; is it really? Isn’t that why movements like HoNY are so popular; because they delve into the “less important” lives around us and reveal their charm?

Loss of information in the modern era is an idea that seems both ridiculous and entirely too probable. With so many ways of documenting information – media, the internet, photography, word of mouth, recordings, everything – the idea that something could go undocumented is almost laughable. But what does it really mean to be “undocumented”? Sure, almost every single possible action, lifestyle, social class, what have you of the current age has been recorded in some way, but can we really consider them ‘documented’ if no one pays attention? The lifestyles of the rich and famous and/or the sick and twisted are what make the news; the general public is still in many ways just as unrecognized as they were in the Victorian Era, at least by large media.

But then we consider the internet and the social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pintrest, Reddit, etc. Places created for people to document their lives and their interests in as little or as much detail as they want; places that have been hubs of news the big media doesn’t pay attention to, or story lines they refuse to publish; places where the ‘undocumented’ voice is finding a foothold.

I just think it’s interesting to think about. We have this notion that ignorance of the lower classes and their lives is something exclusive to much earlier times when really I think it’s persisted up until the modern day. But now, with the explosion of communication-focused websites, are we actually moving to erase some of that ignorance?


  1. That is pretty interesting to think about! When we were looking at the scrapbooks the other day it really made me wonder what people are going to think of my Pinterest boards in 200 years.

  2. […] post about un/documentation recalled the discussions we had about documentation of criminals and, later, […]

  3. I feel like perhaps I agree with you, that we are moving into a time when every voice can be heard or at least every voice has a platform to be heard with the exponential growth of the internet. If this is true though then is every voice just a grain of sand on an ever expanding beach? What I mean is, does there come a point, when many people have Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram AND Pinterest, the overwhelming ocean of information which is created becomes another landscape in which it is impossible for those deemed “less important” to stand out. Maybe I’m a pessimist but the information age in which we live seems to me at once a platform for opportunity and a leveling wave.

  4. I have two thoughts on your very thought-provoking post. One is the ways that the word “undocumented” often refers to immigrants who are not in the U.S. legally. This use of the word suggests that not being documented in the sense that you mean is linked to not being protected by the law. Second, I wonder how the recent use of social media by protestors in Ferguson speaks to this question of documentation.

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