Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twibrary of Blogress

The dismissive tone of this short post mentioning the Library of Congress's plans to archive twitter posts (or twosts), and the far more dismissive tone of most of the comments on it, irritates me. I'm not going to make any kind of claim that twitter is creating revolutionary social change or any kind of great literature or anything of the kind (though it may be doing that, who knows), but the idea that there can be no value in recording these things amounts to the idea that there is no value in the thoughts and actions of everyday people.

What is unprecedented with twitter and with blogs and so on is not so much the fact that the masses (and yes, I know that it's a limited, generally privileged slice of the masses) have things to say and are saying them as that they/we now have a platform to say these things and have them recorded and accessible to anyone (the word "anyone" carrying the same restrictions I mentioned before) who wants to read them, irrespective of the ability of these thoughts to sell commodities, and irrespective of the monetary value of the thinker. To dismiss all of this as narcissistic navel gazing, regardless of whether or not much of it is narcissistic navel gazing, is insulting and, I would argue, elitist in a way that is very useful to power.


Jack Crow said...

familiar with Utah Phillips' "Long Memory"?

Ethan said...

Utah Phillips is on the long list of people I embarrassingly know pretty much nothing about -- thanks for the tip.

Jack Crow said...

It's on the "Fellow Workers" disc, made with Ani DiFranco. He talks of a project to create our own history, by interviewing and recording the lives of laborers, independent of the heroic-princes history we're taught to revere in "school."

Your thoughts parallel his, it seems.

Justin said...

I've been working through Studs Terkel's oral history books. I just finished 'Working', I enjoyed it a lot for exactly what you are saying as giving voice to everyday people. Some of the subjects are very poetic in describing their existence as joblers.

The book Howard Zinn edited, Voices of the People, was also very stirring in the same sense.

I haven't made the leap to Twitter and don't plan on it, so this is an uninformed comment perhaps, but I thought of it differently than you; that it is reinforcing the culture of idolatry for the powerful, be they athletes, entertainers, talking heads, politicians or whatever. I probably won't go to Twitter, just as I do not have a social networking presence. In fact, I've been strongly considering exiting online activity altogether. I am a bit of an online newspaper junkie though, so who knows if I'll ever make the break.

thebaronette said...

something tangentially related:

Ethan said...

Justin, first of all I know it isn't your main point but I would be sad if you withdrew from the internet. Do what you want/need, of course, but I like your internet presence quite a lot.

Thank you also for reminding me of the Terkel and Zinn books which have been on my list for a long while now.

As for twitter: any medium of communication will reflect its users' needs and desires. In a spectacle-oriented society like ours, this inevitably means that a great deal of that medium will be taken up with what you describe. You could just as easily describe ordinary, old-fashioned conversation the way you described twitter. The difference between twitter (and blogs) and regular conversation is of course that the electronic media can reach mass audiences. Unlike other mass media (television, print, movies, radio, whatever), twitter and blogs and all of that need not be monetized. There are no advertisements (unless you decide to put them there), and the only barrier to participation for both creator and audience is internet access. And while this is a very large barrier indeed for many people, it is not nearly so much of one as, say, a multi-million dollar movie budget or the need to please an editor, even one as noble and well-intentioned as a Terkel or a Zinn.

So, yes, there is a lot of crap, and a lot of power-worship on twitter. But that is symptomatic of our society*, not of the medium.

At least I think.

*Which in itself makes it worth studying

Ethan said...

baronette, I have no idea what to make of that, except that it sounds like Paola Antonelli is redefining what it means to be a museum curator. Which is nice.