What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Twittering for Posterity

April 17, 2010, 5:50 PM

Since time immemorial people have considered two ways to be immortal: through one’s progeny or by displaying spectacular achievement in the sciences, arts or politics. Now there’s another way: Tweeting. Congress just announced that it has reached an agreement with Twitter’s founders to archive the millions of tweets that have been accumulated since its inception in 2006.  Yes, your meandering tweets will now live forever!

The announcement appropriately came in the form of a tweet by Matt Raymond, communications director at the Library of Congress.

“Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive -- ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow.” 

Do we really want Congress spending our tax money on people's breathless tweets raving about Lady Gaga? Yes, we do. It turns out that the potential for knowledge per dollar of storage is extremely high. The price of storing the archive is less than $2000 (according to Raymond, the archive is about 5 terabytes - 1 terabyte equals 1000 gigabytes - and it costs a few hundred dollars to store that amount, a cost of storage that is decreasing every year). Add to that about 55 million tweets per day (and rising), and one can still be assured it’s not going to break the federal budget. On the plus side, one can well imagine that a hundred years from now, robots will help us run extremely sophisticated analyses to understand what mattered to us today. The Iranian protests (#iranelection), the iPad (#ipad), even Lady Gaga (#ladygaga) each represents facets of our culture. Between those whimsical tweets wishing for a chance encounter with Justin Timberlake and lamenting the ruined pot roast, there are also tweets that celebrate President Obama’s healthcare bill and decry the Burmese regime’s continued incarceration of Aung San Suu Kyi. Together the twitterverse pulsates with what matters to us as individuals, communities and nations. In other words, don’t worry about the money spent storing the tweets (it’s negligible) or why anyone would want this ‘crappy’ data (it’s not crappy if you look at the whole data set and imagine the rich picture it can draw of cultural and political trends).

Well, then should we just go on happily tweeting about anything and everything? If you were on the Hollywood Blacklist in the 1950s, you may not look at the government mining your personal data as casually as those who’ve never felt the cold stare of Big Brother’s scrutiny. The Hollywood Blacklist was created to terrorize and harass members of the entertainment industry (actors, screenwriters, producers, directors, musicians) who were suspected of having any association with the Communist Party, sometimes based on something as vague as attending a party where “Red Fascists” were present. This is just one well-known but oft-forgotten example of what happens when personal information lands in the hands of government and its secret intelligence arms.  

So the answer to the question whether your tweets can be manipulated against your interests is "yes", but whether it will in fact be used in such a way is unclear. If you're concerned, it's better to change the privacy settings of your Twitter account: only public tweets will be used by Congress.

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.


Twittering for Posterity

Newsletter: Share: