Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Archiving the Twits

I don't do Twitter because, well, I'm a curmudgeon. If they had called it somthing else, maybe I'd sign on. But I cut my teeth on my 1928 Webster's New International Dictionary. Every hard word John Owen uses can be found in it. Twitter is there too:

twit'-ter, v.i. 1. To make a succession of small, tremulous, intermitted noises. 2. To titter; giggle.

twit'-ter, n. Act of twittering; a small, tremulous, intermitted noise, as that made by a swallow.

I just cannot bring myself to sign on to a service that encourages people to intermit tremulous noises, at whatever frequency.

But, leaving that aside, I see the Library of Congress has decided to archive every twitter message, (or tweet, n. A low chirping note.--....):

How Tweet it is.

They are doing it to preserve culture, or record culture, or simply archive culture. Whatever they end up doing to culture, I can't help but think that the data will be skewed by self selection. First, you have the twitterers, who probably represent the more extroverted cohort of the population. And second, I wonder if twitterers will modify their twittering when they realize that every single tweet will be recorded for posterity. In any event, the culture preserved will be one peculiar to those who overcame their natural reluctance to be likened to a small bird.

The New York Times has slightly more information. It noted that
"[a]cademic researchers seem pleased as well. For hundreds of years, they say, the historical record has tended to be somewhat elitist because of its selectivity. In books, magazines and newspapers, they say, it is the prominent and the infamous who are written about most frequently."

Now everyone has a shot at being a public figure. But don't worry, anti-elitism will only go so far. Matt Raymond, the library’s director of communications said that "the archive would be available only for scholarly and research purposes."

I'm sure archiving culture is a fine idea. It just seems strange to me that archiving everyone's casual top-of-the-head communication, even if public, is the way to do it. I'm thinking that Twitter will be old news in a few years when the latest new method of communicating your instant significant thoughts comes out. When mind-meld technology arrives in 2014, nobody except historians with peculiar interests will even know of Twitter. And I will be working even harder to have a closed mind.

But I will probably be shown to be wrong. If I turn out to be right, I promise, I won't twit* about it.

*twit, n. A taunting allusion or reminder; a taunt.