History, as we know it, relies on the written word. The Egyptians, 5,000 years ago, recorded language. Their records survived. But prehistory is not completely unknown. There are objects from the past. Physical relics of what the world once was. Shaped pieces tell us, “People did this. People existed without a written language.” It’s just that, with writing, humanity began to accelerate. The expression “ancient history” is somewhat of an oxymoron. Because really, history is not very old.
Prehistory can still be applied to events happening today. Two lovers meet, become entwined, but their history doesn’t begin until the first record of their love. Perhaps it’s a love letter. Or a text message. The prehistory of their relationship is everything leading up to that first record. A smile goes into prehistory. Desire is a prehistory. There’s no evidence (yet) that a relationship will exist. Photos don’t count. Only the text, detailing the language of their love.
Online, everything published automatically becomes historical. And history, as we know it, remains as elusive as ever. This is not a linear landscape. One idea does not lead to the next. It is a moving history, a segmented and adjustable history, something external that defines us. And yet, while we don’t write, while we sit and think and ponder, we are also creating a prehistory. Our bodies, it seems, move into and out of prehistory, never entering history. We are never historical, but the idea of us becomes historical, in print.
Writing, and by proxy, coding, not only defines us, but it leads us toward a perpetual history of ourselves. To exist, as a body, no one needs to write. But to exist, as a culture, someone will always be writing. No wonder writers feel compelled to write. It may be the only way to truly exist beyond your time. And yet, I wonder, what happens to all the prehistory, while history is being written? If prehistory means no writing, then prehistory also means all the other non-writing things. All the smiles and desires. All the ephemera before it hits the page.