Saturday, January 19, 2013

Twitter Karma

A story hit the internet a few days ago that may have slipped the attention of most. The US Library of Congress has begun to banking the entire record of the Twitterverse. Did the Twitterverse notice? Not really, as far as I can tell.

The idea that someone or something is out there recording every thing we might think to regurgitate online is supposed to terrify us. This is Big Brother that George Orwell warned was about, isn't it? The reality, as James Gleick describes it, is not quite so straight forward.
This is an ocean of ephemera. A library of Babel. No one is under any illusions about the likely quality—seriousness, veracity, originality, wisdom—of any one tweet. The library will take the bad with the good: the rumors and lies, the prattle, puns, hoots, jeers, bluster, invective, bawdy probes, vile gossip, epigrams, anagrams, quips and jibes, hearsay and tittle-tattle, pleading, chicanery, jabbering, quibbling, block writing and ASCII art, self-promotion and humblebragging, grandiloquence and stultiloquence. New news every millisecond. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances. Now comical then tragical matters.
I confess, every so often I tweet, but I have no illusions about the infinitesimal significance of absolutely every tweet with my name attached to it. I also have no qualms about the Library of Congress indexing my ephemera. Nor everyone else's ephemera either. The fear of Big Brother is founded on an idea that behind every piece of technology there is a unpredictable, possibly even capricious, personality waiting to stick it to you. It's to let your imagination run away on your rationality.

Presumably if someone searched for my name, they could find whatever I had thrown into the vast Twitterverse. Some of it might be incriminating in some small way or other, but that has less to do with the technology, than it has to do with the person interested, and, more to the point, with me. If that hypothetical person followed the changing content of my tweets, they might be able to make sense of my changing interests. But how much would it actually reveal about me?

The Twitterverse could be thought of as governed by the law of karma. Whatever has already been tweeted follows us around wherever we go, with the potential to jump up and kick us in the ass at the worst possible moment. Though this is not because karma has it out for us. Karma is absolutely impartial, because whatever it does to us, we have, in point of fact, done to ourselves.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, the more likely way things play out, is an image of a indistinguishable straw in a haystack.

Combined with a little prudence on your part, the likelihood of of Big Brother finding anything incriminating is slim to nil--and slim just left town.

No comments: