Are you Important Enough for the Library of Congress?

Jefferson Building (Library of Congress)

Tweet about your lunch and it ends up here??

This is one of those moments where you can either go, “Oh no, what have I done??” or else go, “Really? Meh.” You may  have missed the announcement last year where Twitter said it was donating its entire archive to the Library of Congress. Every public tweet has gone, and will continue to go, to the Library, as a record of  Twitter’s cultural significance and the conversation of our times.

For people who worry about privacy, this sort of thing can create panic attacks. Every word you’ve said — not just the profound observations but the whiny complaints about your bad day, every grumble you’ve ever made about your brother, your job, your cat, your spouse’s cooking — all will be preserved forever in the most official library in the United States. It’s enough to set some people rushing off to delete every tweet they’ve ever made (though it’s far too late for that, sorry), or cancel their Twitter account altogether. Some people do get that worried.

In this June 2, 2011 article (How the Library of Congress is building the Twitter archive) by Audrey Walters, on the O’Reilly Radar site, Walters reports that the Twitter archive contains billions and billions of tweets, not to mention the shortened URLs and links to other sites for news articles, photos, websites, blogs, and so on. As Walters says, “the Library of Congress won’t be creating a catalog of all these tweets and all this data, but they do want to be able to index the material so researchers can effectively search it.”

twitter - What are you doing?

Do we care if someone in 2111 knows what we were doing today? Not likely.

Oh no! Someone can search the database and find all those tweets you wish you’d never made! And yet…think about it. Twitter’s had some pretty significant tweets in the past five or six years. The first tweet from space. Tweets about the Iranian uprising and its crushing by the government. Tweets from the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain.

How do your tweets stack up against those? And which will researchers actually be looking for — tweets from space, or your tweet about the new shoes you bought or a book you really liked? Even your announcement of your great new product or service is probably going to lose historical significance in a couple of years or so, unless perhaps your name is Steve Jobs.

Naturally you should be moderate in what you say online, especially in a business context. You might be more relaxed with a personal Twitter account. But either way, unless you confess to murder, you probably have little to worry about. Out of billions and billions of tweets, most of us are going to remain utterly obscure. But as a final reassurance, Walters also says, “access to the Twitter archive will be restricted to ‘known researchers’ who will need to go through the Library of Congress approval process to gain access to the data.”

So relax. There’s comfort and even security in just being ordinary people, historically speaking.