Twitter Is History At Library of Congress

Source: LA Times
By Faye Fiore/Washington

Sometime over the last 200 years the Library of Congress came to be regarded as stuffy. This could be because its prized holdings include George Washington’s copy of the Constitution and similar tomes.

But under all that marble and granite in the heart of America’s capital beats an alter ego that is hip. How else would one explain the latest acquisition of the world’s largest library: every tweet ever twittered since the very first tweet by founder Jack Dorsey (“just setting up my twttr”) on March 21, 2006.

That’s right. If you ever woke up, grabbed your phone and twittered your friends that you got hold of some bad shrimp last night, you may consider your work inducted into the nation’s oldest cultural institution.

Billions of public musings of 140 characters or less – with 55mn pouring in daily – will be digitally preserved alongside the likes of Albert Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis, not to mention Bob Hope’s vaudeville numbers and the comic book adventures of Dagwood Bumstead. (It seems the library has been in touch with its jocular side for some time.)

Deciding that micro-blogging is important in modern American culture, the library asked Twitter to donate its archives.

Now tweets will be maintained for research, the library’s primary mission. Like the one from President Barack Obama the night he was elected: “We just made history.” And after he won the Nobel Prize: “Humbled.”

There is the robotic blurt from the Mars Phoenix Lander when it discovered water on the red planet: “We have ICE!!!! Yes, ICE, WATER ICE on Mars. woot!!!”

But Twitter’s unique contribution may be the window it provides into humdrum American life. Where else can behaviourists find such an exhaustive record of the everyday doings of people you’ve never heard of?

Consider Max Kiesler’s proposal to Emily Chang, now memorialised across the street from the Capitol: “After 15 years of blissful happiness I would like to ask for your hand in marriage?”

And the first tweet by Corey Menscher’s foetus: “I kicked Mommy at 12:18PM on Thu Dec 11!”

Sceptics who dismiss Twitter as a fleeting fad should take note. Twitter has already recorded some powerful moments, according to Mashable, a social media news blog.

On April 10, 2008, University of California, Berkeley, grad student James Karl Buck tweeted “Arrested” when he was detained by Egyptian police during an anti-government protest. The university got a lawyer and he was freed.

A California woman’s suicide may have been thwarted when she tweeted actress Demi Moore: “gbye … gonna kill myself now.” Moore retweeted to hundreds of thousands of her followers; the woman was located and hospitalised.

Twitter has changed the way the nation hears big news – in amateur, real-time scoops. The 2008 Chinese earthquake, the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, and the Continental Airlines 737 crash in Denver all broke on Twitter. “Holy (asterisks) I wasbjustb in a plane crash!” passenger Mike Wilson informed the world.

The library’s holdings – 745 miles of shelves with printed material in 470 languages, and now billions of tweets – are “the world’s most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge,” its website says.

“The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life,” said James H Billington, the librarian of Congress.

Twitter was equally joyful – more briefly, of course. Said a spokesman: “Twitter is honoured to be part of the LOC collection.” — Los Angeles Times/MCT


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