Image: Is that Wacked/Bruce Marlin (Chicago).
According to Multiversity Comics (here), the Mother Ship has landed and Grant Morrison joined Twitter (here) on the 13th of October. This got me wondering about the tweets I saw in the past week that really captured (for me) how people are thinking about what is going on. In reviewing them beyond the constant reading flow that is normal for Twitter, the tweets produced a picture of the fractured landscape and fragmented reality that the Internet is constantly making out of discussions on various topics. The sense of the tweets comes not just from the single tweets themselves, but from the connections between tweeters, the reactions they have to one another's posts, and the retweets they make. Together, these messages form a loosely-knit lattice that creates a larger, collective meaning. But because Twitter is so dynamic, that form and meaning are constantly changing. It would be impossible to pin down or document, in a traditional historiographical sense, the general way tweeters are thinking about a certain range of topics at a given time. It could only be done by storing all the messages and sorting them with computer algorithms, analyzing them linguistically according to the use of certain words and the date. Is this how the history of our times and future times will be written in the distant future? Who will have access to the information amassed by sites like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook? And how will they analyze it? And with what tools? And how will that affect how future people understand our incredibly important era, the dawn of the Technological Revolution? Will the history of our present be written by the corporate ancestors of marketing and branding agencies? It's something that professional historians in the universities should contemplate.
Multiversity's writer and editor, Matthew Meylikhov, explains how the Scottish writer Grant Morrison got onto Twitter. It's a little story of displaced identities and avatars that is typical of our times: "For years ... the twitter account @grantmorrison has been used by a fan to simply relay information between himself and other fans about Grant Morrison. It's an innocent enough thing, and he'd always said that if the real Morrison wanted the account, he could have it. Well, it turns out Morrison did. As of midnight last night, Grant Morrison and his publicist/wife Kristan have taken over the Twitter account. As the previous owner explained, 'This just in: Grant Morrison and Kristan will take over this Twitter account for good! Come back at midnight' ... [a]nd at the stroke of midnight of wherever the Morrisons were, the tweet at the top of this page [pictured above] arrived." Morrison's Bio line currently reads, "I Can't Believe It's Not Grant Morrison!!!"
This is going to be another problem for future historians: the proliferation of avatar and screen names will obscure the identities of countless authors. And in this case, you have a before and after situation, where one author, a fan, used Morrison's screen name up to point X, and after that, the real Grant Morrison 'took over' the use of his own name. The Web has democratized reporting and publishing, and anyone can go online and begin putting up their work for free, or close to that. But this is democracy without a face, or rather, with a thousand faces. Teasing out early twenty-first century writers' identities and biographies will become an art in itself, given that people generally have more than one fake name, or pen-name, which they use online. Some even change those pseudonyms regularly. Perhaps the only way to trace authorship (never mind associated concerns about copyright and ownership) will be via the signature websites and e-mails to which some authors link their avatar names. But people generally have several e-mail addresses and even several personal homepages. It will be a nightmare for historical practice the likes of which has never been seen in the history of our planet. And it's only going to get worse. These problems don't just apply to the blogs and social networking sites, which are themselves historical sources of the mood and trends of our times; they apply to big organizations' and governments' storage of private e-mail correspondence. How is this ephemeral information collected? Who has access to it? And how can it be combined to see the 'big picture'?
It's tempting to throw in the towel and say that there is no meaning - that Twitter is a microcosm for the chaos of the universe. But that simply is not the case - that would be the easy way of saying that we are rapidly creating meaningful realities in the most mundane and widespread contexts, whose overall meaning is already almost impossible for us to understand. We are shaping our future's past, but as we go along with our fake identities and encrypted meta-claims to removed authority over this or that bit of information, it's almost as if we are compulsively obscuring the truth of our reality from ourselves and future people. Part of this is unintentional; technology is changing so quickly that there are no proper conventions for communication.
Below are a few of the tweets that caught my eye this week. They all circle around some core concepts relevant to this blog. But these tweets are already meta-information, many times removed from their sources. If this random collection of messages that I happened to see were the only historical source that future people had, what history would they write about us, as we lived in the past week? The problem has a Canticle for Leibowitz-type of quality.
@KateSherrod: "We're all just a split second, a millimetre, away from a messy/horrible accident. This is just the world, usually, where that didn't happen."
"Intriguing. Conducting reversed versions of standard memory tests may have uncovered a form of 'future memory' http://bit.ly/d6WWKq"
@Godchecker: "Oops, the glass is not half-empty. It's totally empty. As they used to say in 21st century chatrooms, brb."
@Laroquod: "Best we can hope for is that we'll get to mid-century and still have a free internet without any gatekeepers."
"Where the hell does the British gov't get off "copyrighting" a 4000 year old object? http://j.mp/bxvvCC #stonehenge"
@swadeshine: "Retroactive product placement in your Facebook photos > http://goo.gl/lubJ"
“'People trying to tie reality together don’t have any data, just a lot of beautiful math.' http://goo.gl/vu9C #holometer"
@ewrote: "A PG-13 version of #clivebarker Hellraiser?! Uh... have these folks actually seen the original? C'mon... seriously."
@wikileaks: "NEW: beta version of Afghan War Explorer http://beta.diarydig.org/; please test"
"Leaked reports detail Italian black ops in Afghanistan RT http://bit.ly/9wzz53"
@guardiantech: "Plan to store Britons' phone and internet data revived http://bit.ly/bfLlaj"
@Astrodispatch: "Shrinking Britain: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. George Osborne is going to be one of the most hate... http://bit.ly/aQEk56 #astrology"
@Mike_FTW: "I am on a plane while Apple is announcing new things. When I land it’ll be the future and you guys BETTER be wearing ape costumes."
@paleofuture: "Post-Apocalyptic Investing: The Index Approach http://bit.ly/bBjjHq"
"Standing: It's the New Sitting.™ http://wapo.st/a7rvDe (via @hfuhrmann)"
"Interesting profile of "big f" Futurist, Fortunato Depero: http://bit.ly/dtp5uY #futurism #fascism"
"2010 Isn't What Many Futurists Of The Past Imagined http://n.pr/aHWqXC"
@samkinsley: "I just blogged: Practising tomorrows? PhD Thesis online http://bit.ly/aDcxb0"
@justinpickard: "You know something's gone wrong when the shopping centre has a bullion dealer."
"Going into a physical chain bookshop now feels like visiting a sick relative. Depressing."
@leashless: "Defense contractors give me the weird, queasy feeling that ringbearers get around Nazgul."
"The *world* has borrowed up to its credit limit. There's nobody left to borrow from, really -even govs & IMF are tapped out. #collapsonomics"
@MachinesLikeUs: "Batteries smaller than a grain of sand http://goo.gl/fb/yRJgY #scienceampinnovation"
"A mystery solved: How genes are selectively silenced http://goo.gl/fb/4FrER #genetics"
"A new bionanotechnological sensor detects and analyses DNA sequences http://goo.gl/fb/dSEv6 #genetics"
@Time: "TIME Google to post Dead Sea Scrolls online http://su.pr/4i2k4o"