If you want to get a real flavour of what things were like in the past you need to concentrate on the ordinary and not the extraordinary. Look at the subject of any photo from eighty or a hundred years ago and you get an impression of what your grandfather or your great Aunt Maude may have looked like. But look at the background to the photo, that collection of people, places and objects which were also captured by chance by the camera lens and you get an impression of what life was like. Life wasn't the grand drawing rooms of stately homes, life was the cottage parlour with Uncle John's underwear drying on the creel. Life wasn't the once-a-year trip to the seaside, life was the daily early morning walk to the mill or the factory.
That insightful group of social researchers - the Mass Observation Movement - understood this. They sent their amateur reporters not to record great speeches or practiced sermons, but into the back street pubs to carefully copy down random conversations (their 1943 book The Pub And The People remains one of the most telling books of the twentieth century in my eyes).
In this modern digital age you might think that the ordinary was being recorded more than ever before. Most of the population walk around with powerful cameras in their pockets and Facebook and Twitter appear to record in detail the minutiae of modern life. But as we scroll past the sixth selfie of Cassie on Facebook this week, we need to remember that, however boringly ordinary it may appear to us, it has been recorded and shared because it is special, because it is untypical of Cassie's life. Add to this the fact that such memories are merely transitory and will be lost when Facebook eventually collapses or you change your mobile phone, or your computer is upgraded, and you begin to realise that, as a generation, we may be leaving less of our ordinary lives behind than any other since the birth of photography.
What we need is a modern, digital equivalent of the old Mass Observation project, and I was delighted to discover, a few days ago, that such an initiative exists. It is called Jamjar Stories and its aim is to "use modern technology to continue the founder's - (of Mass Observation) -project to make 'an anthropology of ourselves". I got an email from the organisation last week asking me if I would be interested in participating and I was delighted to join the growing number of people who are together building a repository of the ordinary by means of short video clips.
My own particular contribution is, in the first place, a series of seven random minutes of my life this week. I have used a random number generator to pick the seven minutes (one for each day somewhere between eight in the morning and midnight) and I am recording what I am doing during that minute and posting to the Jamjar Stories website. Above you can see my video for today when the random minute (10.57am) coincided with me feeding the birds.
Anyone can join the Jamjar Stories initiatives: all you need is a half decent mobile phone and a life that is ordinary. Most of us have that.