The Atlantic

Future Historians Probably Won't Understand Our Internet, and That's Okay

Archivists are working to document our chaotic, opaque, algorithmically complex world—and in many cases, they simply can’t.
Source: Twitter

What’s happening?

This has always been an easier question to pose—as Twitter does to all its users—than to answer. And how well we answer the question of what is happening in our present moment has implications for how this current period will be remembered. Historians, economists, and regular old people at the corner store all have their methods and heuristics for figuring out how the world around them came to be. The best theories require humility; nearly everything that has happened to anyone produced no documentation, no artifacts, nothing to study.

The rise of social media in the ’00s to offer a new avenue for exploring what was happening with unprecedented breadth. After all, people were committing ever larger amounts of information about themselves, their friends, and the world to the servers of social-networking companies. Optimism about this development peaked in 2010, when Twitter gave its archive and ongoing access to public tweets to the Library of Congress. Tweets in the record of America!. “And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.”

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