A reposting of the viral video “The Medieval Helpdesk” (a comical look at the new technology of the book during the middle ages) has a description that frames the point of the video as follows:
This video makes fun of modern newbie computer users by illustrating – in a way fully understandable to them – how silly some of their questions are by creating a similar problem in the Middle Ages.
According to this description, the video was intended to ridicule “newbie computer users” for their obvious incompetence. While an easy framing of the video, I’m not so sure that such a reductive reading even begins to capture the myriad reasons why this video resonates with so many people in our own particular moment. I think an alternative way to think about this video would be to view it through a less anachronistic historical lens. Imagine a moment wherein a general conceptual shift was necessary in order to adapt to new ways of knowing, communicating, and socializing with one another. Take, for example, a quite similar example to the “Medieval Helpdesk” video that is not at all sarcastic, titled “How to use a dial telephone” which is a silent film from 1927 that offers a quick tutorial for, well, dialing a telephone. Strange, right, how could there ever have been a need for a seven minute tutorial for something so simple, intuitive, and natural as dialing a telephone? I don’t know, might they be saying the same thing about RSS sometime soon?
So, lest we take what we are doing for granted, take a look at this “screencast” from 1927. Before we explain away our moment as some ahistorical phenomenon in relationship to new and emerging technologies, it might be useful to seriously consider the video below as an earnest and important document that directly informs the work so many of us are doing in a similar moment today.