Tweets roar into history

The Library of Congress will partner with Twitter to chronicle the times.

Surely a collective groan went up around the globe when the U.S. Library of Congress announced last week that it would begin archiving the ultra-abridged public web postings known as âÄútweets.âÄù Twitter, the social media tool that so many, from Hugo Chavez to John Stewart, love to hate, currently boasts over 55 million distinct postings a day âÄî each weighing in at a lean 140 characters or less. The websiteâÄôs detractors generally dismiss it as distracting and superficial, but its following is undeniably loyal and growing. In a way, it doesnâÄôt seem right that Ashton KutcherâÄôs daily musings on celebrity should have a spot on the same figurative shelf as the first editions of Henry David ThoreauâÄôs âÄúWaldenâÄù or Thomas PaineâÄôs âÄúCommon Sense.âÄù But neither TwitterâÄôs fans nor its critics should be too quick to underestimate the significance of the libraryâÄôs decision. Giovanna DellâÄôOrto, a media historian at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, calls tweets âÄúa way to eavesdrop into societyâÄôs conversationâÄù and âÄúaccess what was previously lostâÄù to historians. Even those postings that seem most trivial in the present could one day provide crucial insights into our culture and society: what we eat, what we read, what we talk about. What emerges is an unprecedented portrait of the zeitgeist. Besides, as DellâÄôOrto reminds us, Twitter isnâÄôt just for kids. Organizations, from the Associated Press to the American Civil Liberties Union, will have tweets preserved along with the rest. In an age of transient information, Twitter could help consolidate history. Still, the vast majority of Twitter fans are left wondering: Do you really want posterity to read what youâÄôre about to type?