Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dear Twitter, Today I...

Posted by Robert Sagers

It seems that everyone has an opinion about blogs and social media such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. For some evangelical Christians, they're tools to be used for good or for ill; for others, they are merely further extensions of a narcissistic culture imploding in on itself.

One component of such social media that is sometimes neglected in these discussions, I think, is its archival aspect. A brief note or memory that may have been logged in a diary or journal is now posted to the World Wide Web. What used to be recorded on parchment with ink is now tapped out on a keyboard, to be viewed on a screen. What previous generations conveyed in a letter is now communicated through a Facebook note or a Twitter "direct message."

But what happens if Facebook shuts down? What will occur if Twitter decides to close all of its accounts? What if Blogger and Wordpress decided to close shop? Will something of the archiving of the day-to-day lives of millions of people be lost, and will something of a generational memory be lost with it?

Of course, those who write with archivists and historians in mind—whether that writing is done on a public Internet blog or a private paper diary—may likely possess a self-important mindset that could easily lead to self-delusion and damage to the soul. But it could be that something of what is recorded at the beginning of this online age may be worth salvaging for future generations.

My archivist friend Jason Fowler, who devotes a good amount of time each day thinking about these types of things, pointed me a few years ago to an interesting article entitled, "Diaries, On-line Diaries, and the Future Loss to Archives; or, Blogs and the Blogging Bloggers Who Blog Them."

From the article:
"Wading through the dross that admittedly constitutes a large part of the blogosphere, archivists will no doubt find a select number of on-line diaries worthy of their consideration and preservation as potentially valuable sources of information for future generations to come. On-line diaries are the next logical step in the progression of diary keeping... On-line diaries, like other electronic records, open numerous possibilities for enriching the future researcher's understanding of life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries."
The writer continues:
"Yet more importantly, the materiality of on-line diaries has profound implications for their survival beyond the life of the diarists. Broken or neglected links often lead to dead-end thoughts. While manuscript diaries have their own preservation problems, they are thought to be more stable and stand a greater chance of permanence if given the proper care... On-line diaries are inherently unstable objects, constantly changing, sometimes disappearing altogether."
Read the entire thing. And consider pausing a moment to record some of the day's events with pen and paper; it could be that your children and grandchildren—and perhaps even a future archivist or two—may thank you for it.