The Library of Congress is an important national archive, and has been for hundreds of years. It retains records for posterity—not just books, but other important things, including digital information.
And soon those archives will include every public tweet ever posted to Twitter since the service’s inception in 2006.
Much as with the Internet Archive’s decision to archive the web, the Library of Congress sees the move to communication on Twitter as an important sea change in the way people communicate—one that should be preserved for the study and understanding of future researchers.
For instance, "one of the things we see emerging is that Twitter is a news distribution medium now," [Martha Anderson, director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library] says. Issue a press release, especially on paper, and response is minimal. But when the library tweeted about its plans, feedback was immediate and overwhelming.
Ars Technica has a piece about the Library’s plans which includes an amusing look at what we might learn about 17th century history if Shakespeare had twittered for posterity.
At present, the archives will not be offered to the public, but only made available to approved researchers.
It’s interesting and a little sobering to consider that every random tweet you ever made, every time you felt obligated to tell the world what you just had for lunch or how long you had to wait for the bus, is going to be available for the perusal of future generations.
When we think of history, we think of musty old tomes, all the classic books that are now public domain e-books. But in the grand scheme of things, little day-to-day messages that show what the average person was thinking and doing could be far more important to reconstructing pictures of our daily life.
It’s also kind of funny to think about future generations needing to build a picture of what life was like in the here and now. After all, we know what our life is like, and are recording it digitally in more ways than ever before. It’s hard to conceive of a future where all that could be forgotten.
But time marches on—and institutions like the Library of Congress exist to try to make sure as much history as possible is preserved. Even the history of our Twitter streams.