History: 140 Characters At A Time

According to Doug Gross (CNN):

Twitter and the Library of Congress announced Wednesday that every public tweet posted since Twitter started in 2006 will be archived digitally by the federal library.

The purpose, according to a blog post by Library of Congress communications director Matt Raymond, is to document “important tweets” as well as gather information about the way we live through the sheer masses of tweets on the site.

Nothing has made me quite as self-conscious about tweeting as the knowledge that those tweets will be recorded for all of time within the Library of Congress. But I do actually believe in the logic behind the decision. I truly believe that all that collective information tells us a lot about ourselves and each other and deserves to be recorded and studied. There is a part of me that can already imagine the historians and archaeologists of the future doing technological ‘digs’ in the way such professionals have excavated information about the past from artefacts exhumed from the ground.

My concern is that this information may be taken out of the context it was produced within – with it’s particular sense of time and space and audience – and be misconstrued in a way that is currently confined to readings of religious texts. Will some flippant tongue-in-cheek remark made on a sunny Sunday afternoon be used to explain a particular political persuasion? Will some injoke with a close friend be ‘reimagined’ as a grandiose conspiracy theory?

Social networking technologies are an important part of my life, but this blog is primarily concerned with creativity and art and I think there might be a creative lesson in this as well. If you are too preoccupied with what others will think of you, your efforts and your expressions, you’ll never get anything done. (It be might be worthwhile to revisit Nina Simone’s thoughts on this matter.)

And if you’d prefer not to enter the records of the Library of Congress at this time or in this fashion, you’ll have to make your Twitter stream private.

3 comments… add one
  • I would hope that by the time archeologists are digging into the past via the library of congress they would be able to discern tongue-in-cheek information from real and important information. Again, this is the hope 😉

  • Annabel

    I suspect that the same misinterpretations will occur – as people have done with letters and diaries since time immemorial. No doubt there will be a change in methodology that will *have* to come about because of the impact that this medium has had, most prolifically, since the late twentieth century.

    I would suspect though that the historical interpretation will differ from the sociological one – the latter discpline will probably have to adapt its methodologies more rapidly than the former.

  • I think it’s great that the library will be doing this. It should be an interesting archive for researchers, though as others indicate, how one interprets any of it will be tricky. Between Twitter chats, event hashtags, replies, etc. there are many scenarios in which a Tweet will only make sense if read in it’s original context. (We see that now when people use Ping and other tools to cross-post Tweets to other services. I’m seeing more and more Tweets on Facebook that don’t make a lick of sense when read there, but would in the context of Tweetchat or if you could see the reply streams)

    I always assume that anything I put on the Web is there forever in one form or another, so the announcement didn’t make me worry about my privacy. I’m sure I have a few old Tweets that are particularly stupid or goofy, but for the most part I try not to post anything I wouldn’t want my grandmother to read. That said it does serve as a good way to remind us that all of our Tweets do become a part of our permanent record.

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