I’m thrilled that the Library of Congress (basically, the literary arm of the United States government) will be archiving all of Twitter. And I’m surprised that several smart people out there are mocking or complaining about this announcement. Most of the conversation is on Twitter, of course.
I don’t get it. The historical value of the Twitter archive is self-evident, and it’s not expensive to store (disk space is cheap, it takes up little space, and curation should be a breeze). So, since this is easy and inexpensive to do, why shouldn’t the Library of Congress do it? Does anybody really believe that future generations won’t want the option to access this archive for whatever research or personal interests they might have?
In fact, I don’t understand how anybody can suggest in good conscience that the Twitter archive should not be saved. If the Library of Congress were not recording the most widely read sections of the Internet, I’d want to know what the hell they were spending money on.
Give me the choice of saving for posterity either the entire Twitter archive or, say, the combined works of William Vollmann, David Foster Wallace and Joyce Carol Oates. Well … sorry to William and David and Joyce, but it’s an easy choice for me. I’ll keep the cloud. (And it’ll probably take up less disk space. I’ll be here all week!)
I hope the Library of Congress is also doing a good job of archiving web sites (I’ve often sensed that Archive.org‘s much touted Wayback Machine only stores a superficial sampling). I was pleased in 2002 to receive a letter from the Library of Congress stating that they had stored several LitKicks message boards from the weeks following September 11, 2001 for their archive of the Internet response to that disaster. I was very proud to be part of this archive (though I don’t know what’s happened to it since).
On a psychological level, I suspect the reason behind much of the vocal objection to the Library of Congress’s good idea is that Twitter is open to all of us, and it embarrasses certain people to even consider or imagine that anything they might participate in has value. To @ericrosenfield above, I say that yes, we don’t need to keep that particular delightful tweet of yours. But the technological reality is that it’s easier to keep your tweet in than to filter it out.
So, yeah, Eric, future generations will find out that you took a shit. That’s the cost of literature. Because the Internet’s hairy, crazy, infinitely dynamic body of content really is a form of literature — it’s a text, our text. I wish people would stop feeling embarrassed about this fact, and would let the Library of Congress do its job.