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The LoC Wastes Our Tax Money

The biggest news of last week – if we exclude the Icelandic volcano delaying flights all over Europe, the Chinese earthquake that killed or injured thousands of people, and Larry King’s seventh divorce – was the announcement that the Library of Congress was going to waste our tax money archiving Twitter.

According the the New York Times article covering this wasteful government spending, both Twitter and many historians think it’s a great thing.The dominant ideology in history these days derides old style history as "elitist," and decades of academic historians have tried to find out how unimportant people in the past lived and died.

This partly explains why nobody reads books by academic historians any more. Nobody really cares what unimportant people did. We’re interested in people who have distinguished themselves from the herd in some way. Nobody cares about unimportant people now, either. That’s why the unimportant people turn to Twitter hoping someone will pay attention to them.

But the trend of "history from below," if it survives, will no doubt be boosted by having trillions of tweets archived. Now historians of the future will be able to verify what everyone already knows to be the case anyway. Unimportant people are boring and stupid and don’t accomplish much. That’s why they’re unimportant.

At least I can understand why historians might think that future historians might be interested in this junk. It makes less sense why anyone would care now what people are tweeting, and yet I’m told there are numerous websites devoted to telling you what people are mentioning most on Twitter. What I can’t figure out is why anyone would care.

I guess if you’re a markety person and want to sell stuff to stupid people, you have to know what’s popular with the masses, but it cracks me up when librarians start talking about Twitter as if we’re going to learn anything from the service as a whole other than that people are dull and dim. The problem with trying to find out what most people think is that most people don’t really think.

Just to verify this for myself, I went to Twitter and checked the top "trending topic" at the time of writing. It was teen pop singer Justin Bieber, which tells us pretty much what we need to know about the average Twitter user, and presumably the average human being. They have the interests of children. They also seem to have the intellect of children. Here’s a few samples:

"hey justin bieber hows it going"

Just because we care. Of course anyone who wasn’t an idiot would already know the answer to this question, because the answer is always the same: "Fine."

"Justin Bieber is Justin Bieber. There will NEVER be another Michael Jackson. N.E.V.E.R."

This is either an example of very poor reasoning or the stupidest debate in the entire world. Probably both. Plus, as this Wikipedia disambiguation page shows, there are many Michel Jacksons. M.A.N.Y.

"RT if your PROUD of Justin Bieber AND hope he win’s at the Juno’s Tonight! :D <33"

RT if your illiterate. Only illiterates write "your" for "you’re." Textspeak-literates would write "u r" and save a character-space they might need later on. Not much I can say about "win’s" for "wins."

"#WelcomeToTwitter where Justin Bieber runs the timelines but not the streets, cities or villages"

Love him or hate him…it doesn’t matter. Just having an opinion and taking the time to express it makes you a fool. This person is just less of a fool than the previous people.

Another top trend is #ladiespleaserealize, in which we are reminded that numerous of our fellow citizens are ignorant, crude, thoughtless, and stupid, but anxious  to spout their idiotic advice to the world. Without Twitter, that’s a truth I might have been able to forget, especially since I quit reading the comments sections on new sites.

And now, this idiocy will be archived in perpetuity at taxpayer expense so that in the future historians can prove that people in the past were just as stupid and dull as people in the present. Up to now, they’ve had to speculate based on the slimmest of evidence. Twitter is a great democratizer. It gives the stupid and semi-literate a public platform for their gibbering that they were denied in the past.

For everyone except academic historians desperate for another article to publish, history is the story of great achievements, of the bright moments in our past when a person, a group, sometimes a whole nation stood out from the swirling trends and did something great or worthwhile or even horrific.

We don’t care if the most important trending topic in colonial America was a tavern singer named Gladys. We care about the Founders. We don’t care that in the 1960s the tedious masses were discussing what Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was doing the night before. We care about John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Vietnam War. Pity they can’t just archive the interesting tweets and weed out the garbage. We’ll save Iran and Presidential elections, and eliminate Justin Bieber, the same way they approach their web-archiving.

I won’t try to predict what future generations will find important or notable about our own era. The first black U.S. President elected? Islamist violence? The rise of China as a major world power? Whatever it is, I feel much more confident predicting that it won’t be Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers or any of the other hot topics.

The entire archive of Twitter will one day provide enough evidence to warrant a footnote: "In the early 21st century, the majority of Americans as usual were distracted by passing fads and trivial celebrities and were blithely unaware of the important events happening around them."

Thus, instead of wasting our money archiving something so trivial that even future historians will be bored to tears by it, the Library of Congress should be archiving web content that’s important now and likely to be important in the future. Maybe library blogs.

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Comments

  1. Angel says:

    Good post! :-)

  2. Thomas P says:

    Goodness, AL… a post on this? And here I thought I was getting some good, old dissenting-voice snarking.

    And when you grammar-nazi someone’s tweet, then have less-than-perfect grammar in your blog post, you look like a jerk. Just saying.

  3. AL=RK? (Your initials here) says:

    From the Central New York Library Resources Council job board:

    “Editor: Reference, ebook, and Digital Products – Library Journal
    Posted on 04/15/10

    The leading publication in the library field, with twice-
    monthly print and daily and weekly web products, seeks
    editor for broad-based position covering the continuing
    shift from print to electronic in reference and trade
    publishing.
    . . . ”

    You too still have the chance to become the new “AL”.

    Get your application in now and make sure that it is really snarky.

  4. utterly pointless says:

    Some things, like the new AL’s blog posts, are stupid. Some are not. So we shouldn’t archive this stuff because some of it is stupid?

    Don’t hate the archiving, hate the stupidity. And yourself for continuing to waste time reading this blog and posting comments.

  5. John says:

    I think that, with quantitative evaluation, archiving all of Twitter could be useful for future historians. What is questionable is why the federal government should be engaged in this activity, especially given that there’s nothing in the Constitution granting the federal government the authority to do so.

  6. Almost Librarian says:

    Gee! That means my one tweet will be saved forever! It was “This is a test tweet”

  7. Your almost not a Librarian says:

    You never know, maybe some researcher 50 to 60 years from now will be looking at Twitter and compiling a raw number of people who only tweeted once to test their accounts.

    One never knows.

  8. t8peh says:

    Archiving twitter is stupid. I have tried twitter and found it utterly banal. What a colossal waste of time and energy.

  9. LoveTechServices says:

    Wow, that means countless new items to add to the cataloging backlog. We will now see a huge increase in the demand for catalogers, right? Then the ALA can advertise a cataloger shortage.
    The future of librarianship is in Tech Services. Be a tweetaloger.

  10. Monk See Monk Poo says:

    “Archiving twitter is stupid. I have tried twitter and found it utterly banal. What a colossal waste of time and energy.”

    Funny, that is what the monks said when the printing press came on line.

  11. librarEwoman says:

    I’m curious to know exactly how much money the Library of Congress is spending on this archiving project. That would bring some more perspective to this story. If they are able to archive Twitter without spending large amounts of money and time, then fine, but if they are spending huge amounts of time and money, I do think there are better uses of that time and money.

  12. Raynor says:

    “Funny, that is what the monks said when the printing press came on line.”

    The printing press took centuries to achieve wide adoption. Twitter will be gone in 10 years.

  13. Sonny Hill says:

    This entry actually makes me wonder if the AL-haters are correct that the April 1 “joke” retirement was real after all. The posts since then seem too predictable and not nearly cheeky enough to be the same person I’ve been reading as AL all these years…

  14. Living Sin and the Lidless Eye says:

    Web 2.0 is the fascist dream – keeping track of everyone forever. Tweeting, facebook, google apps….it all goes into the big repository for the ‘man’ to use as needed. When libraries engage in these activities, they compromise patron privacy.

    Trust me, the man is always watching. Supposedly, over a million folks are on the terrorist watchlist of Homeland Security. It is all an excuse to keep an eye on anyone who does not buy the big lie.

    Propaganda, nobody does it better than the United States of America. One must be impressed with Ronnie’s R. straight face when he called the USSR the Evil Empire.

  15. Techserving You says:

    This is great. Now the LOC can hire a bunch more $80,000 a year catalogers.

  16. CSILC says:

    Maybe, maybe, archiving the 100 most popular tweets per week would be an interesting resource for future historians, but the entire thing!!!???!?!?! Logic fail

  17. anonymous says:

    The entire twitter archive, at 140bytes per entry, can be archived on a few 1tb drives from Costco at $100 a pop. If LJ is paying more than that for this drivel, we’re all being screwed.

    Bring back the real AL, or fess up and move on. This is not worth the cost of even a single tweet. It’s not even worth the time to run the last few columns through a style checker. It’s just too obvious.

  18. twat11 says:

    I’m starting to see the logic of these posts: AL doesn’t like X. Therefore X is stupid and no one should like it.

    Who cares what the AL thinks about the content of Twitter when it’s obvious that the AL is against the way the web is evolving. This anti 2point0pian garbage is like trying to stop an avalanche with a kiddie sand bucket shovel. 2point0pians aren’t dictating the direction of the web, they’re just trying to stay relevant in its ever changing currents.

    Sure, let’s go back to static websites only, which is the equivalent of living with dinosaurs in the evolution of the web.

  19. twit11 says:

    “”Funny, that is what the monks said when the printing press came on line.”

    The printing press took centuries to achieve wide adoption. Twitter will be gone in 10 years.”

    Amazingly, so will books.

  20. twit11 says:

    “”Funny, that is what the monks said when the printing press came on line.”

    The printing press took centuries to achieve wide adoption. Twitter will be gone in 10 years.”

    Amazingly, so will books.

  21. Teabagging says:

    LOC is part of the government and government’s job is to waste money.

    We need to rise up and take down the entire system and put the AL in charge.

    Think of the library world then.

  22. Hunh? says:

    Is AL being sarcastic about herself, or is she taking herself way too seriously?

  23. Geoffrey says:

    All right, that’s enough of this blog. It might have been going downhill toward the end – the real AL seemed weary recently, but her voice was always her own. Now it’s just lame, and whoever is trying to keep this mess going should just put it to bed already. In any event, I’m not waiting for that to happen – I’m dropping the feed for this blog now. Good night, and good luck.

  24. Jonathan says:

    I think those who suggest this is not the same AL are indeed correct. The writing style, the sarcasm, the wit, they are not from the same writer.

    I’m now removing this feed from my RSS reader. It was fun while it lasted.

  25. Jonathan says:

    I love the AL.

  26. Dulcie says:

    The AL, lately, has surpassed herself in stunning analysis of the topsy-turvy world of librarianship. No where else can the gripping insight, stirring prose, and nearly fatal wit be found in the macabre world of the library. I just had to give a shout out to my main gal, AL. Keep it real, Grrrrl!

  27. Jesse Shera says:

    AL, I see you disabled the comments on your recent post. Why? I thought all the trolls were your bread and butter. I mean, sure, you get a few people on here that actually comment on topic, but mostly what you have are trolls, naysayers, and the one or two left who agree with everything you say.

    Now that you’re not even the original AL (or if you are, something has gone so wrong that your prose and wit is hardly recognizable) it seems to me that you need the trolls and naysayers even more so. If the “serious” librarians didn’t take you too seriously before when you were actually fun to read, they are definetely not going to take you seriously now. Or, at least, I can’t imagine it.

    I don’t want to be a loosed insane asylum inmate running the show. Why not just call it quits when you’re ahead instead of beating a dead horse like you most certainly are doing with this sad shadow of what once was.

    Believe it or not, this is a note from an old fan. Before you delete this post, which I’m sure you will. Just think for one second on this: Is it better to burn out or to fade away?

  28. Whatever says:

    Hmm. The Great AL – taken down by trolls, dimwits, malingerers and charlatans who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag or even organize a trip to the mall. Who’d of thunk it.

    If indeed this is the end – it was a great run.

  29. Jesse Shera says:

    Whatever,

    what a cool trolling tactic! The anti-troll troll angle. Hmm, yes, I get it. You go, troll! I like your style.

    The AL was taken down (if in fact this is the case) because the novelty of the blog wore off and the perspective was a little stale. This is not a bad thing; it happens to the best of ‘em. I applaud (the real) AL for doing such a good job at getting the overly self-righteous boorish librarians up in arms.

    For this achievement alone, the AL deserves an award.

  30. Explain says:

    How is it that AL’s perspective is stale after ca. 4 years, whereas the ALA’s perspective, which has been promulgated for 20+ years without change is not?

  31. Montmorency fan says:

    “The printing press took centuries to achieve wide adoption.”

    Wrong. Read Eisenstein.