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Column: We're all tweeting for posterity

The Library of Congress announced last week that it plans to maintain a complete record of every message ever sent on the social networking site Twitter. It's a move that all but guarantees future generations looking back to April of 2010 will have unfettered access to thousands upon thousands of tweets that read, "OMG! The Library of Congress wants to know what I had for breakfast!"

This is serious business. The Library of Congress is America's permanent record. It's the home of all the published material that matters in this country, and I've heard it has a really awesome weekly storytime for kids. Now it's the place to go for messages like this one that just happened to scroll by when I went to Twitter's main page: Kobe might be better than Lebron but lebron get more hoes and that's all that matters.

If not for Twitter, we might not have realized just how much LeBron James loves gardening. People of the future need to know these things.

That sells Twitter short, obviously. The social networking site is not just for telling crowds of strangers what you had for breakfast or what you think of professional basketball players. The system has been used to share some very important information in the four years since it was launched. It has helped track protests in Iran and the earthquake in Haiti. President Barack Obama used Twitter and other forms of social media as an important part of his campaign. Twitter has even helped alert me to stories around Farmington. None of them had anything to do with who got the most hoes -- at least not yet -- but they were all important in their own way.

But messages about world events do not make up the bulk of what some report to be more than 50 million tweets per day. Those are made up by messages from people writing in the guise of an intoxicated incredible Hulk, or as a phony style guide from the Associated Press. There are even messages from London's Big Ben, an account that does nothing but send out an appropriate number of chimes at the top of every hour. I assume the Library of Congress' next big project will involve an exhaustive cataloging of bathroom-stall graffiti.

Explaining the move, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero argued that all forms of communication, trivial though they might seem, can contain valuable information. He points to the diary of Martha Ballard, a midwife who kept a mostly mundane record of her daily life for 25 years. Author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich turned entries like, "Cloudy mourn. Clear at noone. I came home. Find my famely well. Mr. Ballard gone to Winslow" into what Ferriero argues is a fascinating account of life in the late 1700s.

Who, then, are we to insist there is no value in messages like, "Staying up late is the best thing to do"? People of the future might, after all, be woefully underinformed on the values of nocturnal life.

And by the way, I had cereal. It was delicious.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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