The new information age certainly isn’t without its fair share of clutter. The United Nations has even spotlighted the growing need to combat e-waste building up in a number of developing countries. But many of the old online posts, emails, and tweets some of us considered junk are about to become part of one of the largest archiving projects in history.
We’ve already touched on how something as disposable as a quick text message can become a quasi-historical document. Now comes word that the entire Twitter archive, a medium that includes some of the most inconsequential messages in the digital age, is being acquired by the Library of Congress. The announcement from the Library was made via tweet (naturally) and points to a new direction in how the government plans to preserve digital exchanges and information. While many people assumed this would mean a frivolous archive of the inane and superfluous, the new Twitter archive will feature historic tweets, including President Obama’s tweet regarding the 2008 election as well as messages from James Buck, a journalist captured in Egypt whose tweets contributed to his eventual liberation.
The Library of Congress has actually been harvesting all these online materials since 2000. Now housing more than 167 terrabytes of information, that mission has gone into overdrive with the foundation of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. The program has since hosted symposiums discussing the economic sustainability of such large-scale preservation and become part of a much larger movement alongside organizations like the Digital Preservation Coalition.
The movement towards complete digital archiving has found particular traction in the first three months of 2010. In January, the International Internet Preservation Consortium launched a web archive registry that provides a wide-ranging collection of online materials. States like Minnesota and Arizona have also begun archiving their own public digital materials, which range from legislative records to government emails. At the federal level, a number of agencies have moved to preserve more and more of their audio-visual information. Something known as the Preserving Virtual Worlds project is even looking to collect and preserve the fictional worlds portrayed in certain multi-player video games.
Who is to say what digital media is entitled to preservation and what isn’t? But like any collection of antiques, there is always the possibility that something of historical significance is hiding in between the pieces of junk. We haven’t figured out how to sort through it all, but much of the digital information we’ve taken for granted is about to become one of the fastest-growing archives in history.