As is now widely known, and as NYT reports, Twitter has donated the tweets from its public timeline to The Library of Congress. The data takes up much less physical and digital space than you’d think. Ten billion tweets occupy just 5TB of storage space, enough to easily fit on a desktop. But dealing with the onslaught of primary source material may require a new kind of historian:
A tool like Google Replay is helpful in focusing on one topic. But it displays only 10 Tweets at a time. To browse 10 billion — let’s see, figuring six seconds for a quick scan of each screen — would require about 190 sleepless years. […] [History professor Daniel J.] Cohen encourages historians to find new tools and methods for mining the “staggeringly large historical record” of Tweets. This will require a different approach, he said, one that lets go of straightforward “anecdotal history.”
Rather than telling and retelling history, then, the new historians’ role will be to edit history. Liz Danzico explains,
[I]nformation overload is not a new problem and therefore does not accurately describe what’s at issue today. The critical issue is simply a failure of filters.
Enter the editor.
There has long been an invisible tribe, a mysterious group, who transform scattered thoughts into compelling stories, who splice hundreds of hours of video into feature-length films, who segregate the semicolons from the em dashes. These are editors working across media sectors — publishing, film, music, more — to deliver transformative stories with clarity and grace.
Whether we see it or not, we’re becoming editors ourselves. In the Gutenberg era, the one-to-many relationship, in which an editor dictated the content for the masses, was common. In the post-Gutenberg era, our reliance became more democratic: We sought out editors who could sift through the staggering amount of information for us, signal where to look, what to read, and what to pay attention to. Now there’s another shift at play; […] We are, for the first time, accepting the role of editor, and exhibiting our editorial qualities outward.
What’s interesting in comparing these two articles is the push and pull between the kind of bottom-up, user-generated editing that Liz describes and the kind of top-down, authority-driven editing that historians represent. My suspicion is that we’ll need a blend of the two — historians who are also users, who are sensitive to the kind of spontaneous, networked editing that Liz describes, but who are also comfortable taking a broader view than anyone in the midst of a historical moment ever could. Digital humanities, indeed.
From Eugene Jarecki’s informative documentary Why We Fight, ex-CIA agent Chalmers Johnson explains effortlessly in 3 minutes how “there is a direct connection between events that happened more than 50 years ago and the war in Iraq today.” Johnson is famous for his popularization of the term “blowback,” which describes the unintended consequences of covert operations. The term is also the title of his book, which is available here.
“Scientists now agree that the classical five senses are not the only avenues through which we gather information about the world around and, equally important, inside us. Aristotle failed to specify proprioception (the sense of how our body parts are positioned in space relative to one another), equilibrioception (the sense of linear acceleration and head position), thermoception (the sense of heat and cold) and nociception (the sense of pain).” A new book by Scott McCredie sets out to prove what one of my doctor friends was passionately explaining to me the other day: that balance was very mistakenly left off of Aristotle’s famously repeated list of the “five senses.” Read the NYT review of McCredie’s book here.
The Skeptisum is an online museum that applies rigorous science to paranormal claims. From their mission statement: “A skeptical approach is not dismissive but analytical, demanding that there be sufficient evidence in order for a claim to be accepted.” They have a number of fascinating virtual exhibits and artifacts, some visually stunning (like this Kirlian photograph) and others intellectually illuminating (like the origins of the tooth fairy).
An online museum of every kind of audio tape casette you could ever hope to see. Consider my visual nostalgia itch scratched.
“Without the guidance of institutions and armed only with the ability to crudely search for text, the Internet’s version of art history slightly differs from the academic version. For instance, on the Internet, actual artist videos are placed next to user generated karaoke remakes. The control systems that normally govern the systematization of art are dismantled by the search algorithms and whims of home users.” Hanne Mugass and Cory Arcangel’s massive online video archive entitled “Art Since 1960 (According to the Internet).”
In one of the more interesting quotes about my generation that I’ve read recently, art dealer Daniel Reich observed to NYT that “My generation grew up in a time when we didn’t have heroes. You grew up believing you were being hoodwinked and manipulated—and knowing you were, but learning to enjoy it because it came in fun colors or was on MTV.” More of the article here. Visit Reich’s gallery here. Visit Becky Smith’s gallery Bellwether here.
To start, when I say the typographic “modern,” I don’t mean Modernity, even though the written distinction is typographic. The project of Modernity spanned a century or more; the novelty of modern typography lasted a few decades at best, and had its heyday in the latter half of the twentieth century, in the twilight, or perhaps even in the aftermath, of the Modern Age. Typographic theorists and thinkers were far less acclimated to philosophical tracts than they were to artistic manifestos, which were themselves generally non-comparative and often stridently rhetorical. So, as the manifesto-writers repackaged the philosophers, the typographers repackaged the manifesto-writers, and, here we have typography in its typical position: twice-removed. Contemporary designers Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller explain, “writing is… a set of signs for representing signs. The design of letterforms is removed one step further: it is a medium whose signified is not words but rather the alphabet.”