Missing Information: Absolute Dates

One troubling loss from much of the internet is absolute dates, like March 15, 2019. Today’s date, actually. Instead, we are being given relative dates: 3 hours ago, 4 days ago, a month ago, a year ago. The obvious problem with this is that if a article or document is passed on, exactly when it was determined the article was four days old is lost. Moreover, any article labeled “a year ago” is essentially and forever dateless.

Sometimes it actually matters whether an article was published before or after some important event.

Another serious problem with relative dating is that citations to the source article or document can be lost. No serious person can cite a document and vaguely refer to it being a year or so old from the time I first saww it. It is like the proverbial debater who, when asked for their source, vaguely says, “I read it in Time or Newsweek”. (For younger people, these fading magaizne were very important three or four decades ago, long before the Internet.)

It seems as if the “data curation” of search engines is trying to lock people into their reference/advertising system by making it more difficult to take that information offline and use it in some meaningful manner. (Or maybe the search engines just have too much surplus computing power.) Then when an article is used offline, the best you have is a broken citation (e.g., date of publication, a year ago), and the hope the article remains online with the same URL forever.

Of course, all our databases rely on absolute dating of records.