Sign of Apocalypse? Library of Congress Saves Tweets

By Craig Galbraith Comments
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The oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. – home to some of the greatest literary works in history – has decided to archive the 140-characters-or-fewer blatherings we now know as “tweets.” Apparently, the inane “I’m-not-really-doing-anything” messages are good enough to be considered for “the universal body of knowledge” that the Library of Congress purports to house.

The Library announced that it will begin archiving the collected works of Twitter – probably alongside the collected works of Twain and Voltaire. Twitter users send 55 million messages per day. Shakespeare, while prolific in his day, better slide over and make room.

OK, sure, they won’t really take up shelf space. It’s part of the Library’s “embrace of digital media,” according to the New York Times. Twitter says it’s “very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history.” Well, why shouldn’t they be pumped up in Silicon Valley?

You might be surprised to learn that many researchers, who are stereotypically holed-up on the third floor of some Ivy League university, are in favor of the move. This is because history tends to focus on those who are most prominent, and even infamous, while some “tweeter” out there might really have something insightful – historic, perhaps – to say.

The Library started its “Web capture” project – a digital recordkeeping – 10 years ago, and has already accumulated 167 terabytes (that’s a lot) of material.

Yes, Twitter has proven useful in some emergencies. It made headlines during Iran’s historic presidential election in 2009. It also was an important tool used during the last presidential campaign in the U.S. And just this week, the company announced that it's finally developed a strategy to make money. But are we ready to put Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears in the same literary league as Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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