Twitter as Oral History Project: 1YR old retweets

Head of Odysseus from a sculptural group repre...
Image via Wikipedia

The project outline of the 1YrAgo Twitter handle.

[Warning: navel-gazing ahead] One of the salient features of Twitter is its ephemeral nature. We post our short snippets of life or thought and then on we go. Our post gets buried and eventually forgotten in the piles of others’ thoughts and life-snippets.

I’ve wondered if this isn’t somewhat like a literary version of oral culture. Things are said and then forgotten, or perhaps left unremembered. Instead of being unremembered due to a lack of technology, they are left unremembered due to the overwhelming deluge of other things that come and go. No need to stockpile water if you live next to a spring.

In an oral culture, if something is to be remembered it must be repeated and passed on (if the remembered thing is going to continue beyond the lifespan of the rememberer, anyway). This got me thinking about how a Twitter remembering would work and the nature of search in relation to memory.

Search can only help you find what you already know exists, what you already remember. In my marketing work, one of the first steps I take is to help my clients understand what language is being used by those who are trying to find what my clients can offer. This language is often different from the insider language that my clients take for granted in their everyday practice. Search can’t help you discover new ideas due to the fact that you must have some sort of start-point, a search term or key word to begin the search. If you can find it via search, you already know something about it.

The living oral culture of Twitter lends itself to a living memory based on individual decisions/actions, like communal recreation. Since we’re accustomed to search engine interaction, coming across an oral-memory kind of Twitter could be jarring but it could also be fun or enlightening or otherwise meaningful.

Twitter memory in practice:

For the past few months, whenever I see a Twitter post that I think I will want to remember, for whatever reason, I log into Tweetlater and schedule a retweet for some time in the future. Many of them I set arbitrarily to retweet a year later and instead of using the common syntax:

RT @somebody: Here's something interesting

I use 1YR syntax:

1YR @somebody: Here's something interesting.

For periods of time less than a year I just use L8R syntax:

L8R @somebody: Here's something interesting

Some examples of this memory device in use include:

Quite a few more will be coming from my account in the coming months. Some are simple reminders: someone mentioning something relevant to outdoor fun in the middle of winter, time-shifted to the summer. Some are time sensitive indications of mood and emotion (during the onset of the October financial woes). And so on, whatever I found interesting at the time and thought I might find meaningful in the future.

I suppose, just like in “normal” oral history, the chosen posts to retweet say as much about me and what I find interesting as the actual content that gets retweeted. Just like I’m sure there were more poems than The Odyssey floating around pre-historic Greece, but for some reason that’s the one that people chose to remember often enough that it survived to be recorded.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *