In her article, “Future Historians Probably Won’t Understand Our Internet, and That’s Okay”, Alexis Madrigal explores the feasibility of archiving digital platforms such as social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). She provides an example where Twitter offered their public tweets to the Library of Congress to archive. One LOC librarian excitedly said, “It boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data.” Unfortunately, “a single search of just the Twitter data from 2006 to 2010 could take 24 hours.” Suddenly, sociologists and researchers who were excited about this incredible resource of information are realizing that there is such a thing as too much information. To quickly get a sense of just how much information the LOC would have to process, check this out.
Aside from the overwhelming amount of data that archivists would have to deal with, there is also the question of how to archive the ~experience~ of social media versus just the data found on social media. Yes, the sheer number of tweets or posts shows us how engrossed the world has become in social media, but there’s no way to capture the experience of each individual user. First off, at least right now, it is impossible to capture the emotional and psychological responses that are perhaps the most powerful aspect of social media; many would claim that the addictive nature and the “connections” that people feel they make over Facebook or Twitter are why these apps are so popular. Aside from this, the other part holding back the archiving of social media is that each person’s experience is difference. Not only is it different from user to user, it is different for each user every single time they log onto it. The purpose of archiving is to preserve the history of past events. Therefore, how can we possibly even consider archiving social media when every platform is constantly evolving? Even if our posts and tweets are final and sent out, they are only a fraction of the archival value if they aren’t within context. The context is constantly changing because the platforms are constantly changing.
Twitter and Facebook are constantly changing because of the algorithms that they may or may not understand. Say for example I go on Twitter and I use a hashtag or explore tweets that are related to the hashtag. The next time I go on Twitter, the content that is fed to me will likely be somehow connected with the hashtag that I explored the previous time. Snapchat’s algorithm use this same logic; based off of our friends interests and the searches we’ve performed in our phone and a million other things, they feed us certain news articles and certain filters they think we will use. When considering this, it begs the question: is this a form of stereotyping? This targeting of certain audiences that they think will enjoy certain content is not only stereotyping, but it’s also an act of exclusion for those left out of the target audience. Archiving is an important action, but the age of social media has rendered the traditional sense of archiving somewhat useless. Perhaps this is for the best.