Instructor: Malcolm Campbell
October 31st 2012
Could Social Media Become a Key Tool for Future Historians?
Social Media: Forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content. That is the Merriam Webster definition of Social Media, but can we really define something, an idea, a process that is ever growing, ever changing, and always expanding. Forty-one years ago the first email was sent, and the first signs of Social Media were forming. Seven years later the Bulletin Board System was invented by two Chicago computer enthusiasts. With the Bulletin Board they could share information with friends, make announcements, and set dates. Social Media was now taking on a shape, and catching the public eye. Social Media may have been gaining popularity, but it was only microscopic compared to what it is today. In my opinion it wasn’t until 2006 that Social Media started to become the giant it is today. During the year 2006 MySpace became the most popular Social Networking site, Facebook lowered the age limit to 13 years old, and Twitter was born.
Twitter is a Social Media service that allows you to send and read messages of up to 140 characters, which are known as tweets. Twitter has gained so much popularity in the past few years that celebrities and common people alike use it on a daily basis, and in most cases an hourly basis. But that’s the beauty of it; it’s the common people’s interest in something they want to spend their time, putting their thoughts into. In the past the problem with history is the lack of the “common mans” thoughts, opinions, and inputs into the crucial events of their time. It was said best by Marc Raeff writer of the book The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, “The sad truth, however, is that the common people leave few historical records, whether written or material” (Raeff xiv). With Twitter the lack of the “Common Mans” input is no longer a problem, if anything we have too much information coming from the “Common Man.”
I’ve never been much for Social Media; well not as much as my peers are into it today. I had a MySpace page when I was younger, and I had hundreds of “friends”. But truthfully only about 5% of them I actually knew. That’s probably why I was turned off by it, I felt disconnected with the people, and I felt like no one wanted to be themselves. But maybe I’ve realized that’s a good thing, people today are so anti-social in real life that you would have to beat an honest opinion out of them. But when these people are online, there is no pressure of being embarrassed face to face with someone of opposing opinions. I’ve also realized as a history major, with Twitter, my future will know a lot more about my present, then my present knows about my past. “Historians are interested in ordinary life, and twitter is an incredible resource for ordinary life” says Paul Freedman, a professor at Yale University.
I believe future historians will be interested in the thoughts in opinions of our present, but they will also be interested in society; the way we dress, the things we do, and even what we eat. Paul Freedman interestingly enough studies the history of food. Truthfully I didn’t know food had a history to study. Freedman explains how the 140 character ode to the KFC Double Down, and the photo you took eating it, will become a historical document that future historians will marvel over (Freedman). I truthfully just see it as examples of why our society has become so obese, but it’s still a good example of historical events in our society. It’s too bad our past didn’t have twitter, I wonder what they were talking about, and what more would we know about our past. What if we had records of the reactions of the citizens of Hitler’s Germany, before and after his craziness? What if we knew what the British citizens thought when there brothers of the colonies revolted against the king? The Dark Ages wouldn’t have been so dark. Imagine how much more we would know about the Egyptian pyramids if they tweeted the during the construction process. Here is an example I found on Historicaltweets.com, it’s only a joke but what if?
devilsnake Thanks for the follow @eve… I have a gift for you and @adam. I’ll bring it to the next tweet-up. less than 5 seconds ago from the garden
eve The serpent moved in near us. He seems nice. Follow him at @devilsnake … less than 20 seconds ago from the garden
adam Thanks @God… met @eve. She insists I call her “Mother of Mankind” 1 day ago from the garden
eve Met someone. @adam thinks he’s the only guy on the planet. 1 day ago from the garden
adam My side hurts this morning 1 day ago from the garden
adam I sure wish I had someone to hang out with. @God can you hook me up?! 2 days ago from the garden
It’s a good idea to think that Twitter would be a used in the future with historians, but could it possibly be lost with technological advances? Giles Crouch a blogger for Mediabadger.com says “Much of this will depend on what is archived and what isn’t and how it is archived.” The problem in the past was that old technology became harder and harder to use as technology advanced. An example would be the 8-track cassette tapes; sure you can probably find hundreds of the tapes still around but to find a working player for one of those tapes would be a scavenger hunt. What if, in the future, computer technology became so advanced that it was next to impossible to pull up information or web pages from the past?That is one lingering thought that we cannot be sure of until the future, or can we? As of October 2010 twitter has saved every last tweet to the Library of Congress’s hard drive for future historians to use. This is great news for our future, but every last tweet? That is a lot of information to shift through, is it possible to have too much information. How will our future be able to tell what is useful and what is useless information? One history professor Dan Cohen says “Save it all, you never know what people will do with it.” That’s were Data-Mining comes into play. Data-Mining is a tool that was invented because and in part with Social Media. (Data-Mining is a new marketing technique that analyzes information stored for reoccurring data. Social media sites use data mining to find key words or topics to learn about trending subjects, which they in return use for marketing purposes.) Data-Mining could help the future historians search through the billions of tweets for specific topics that were tweeted on.
Twitter offers historians a look back on history in real time, on a day to day basis of study. I have recently discovered that Google has a program called Replay. Now this might just be a start, and as time goes on other programs could refine the idea, but it offers category for the Historians of the future. Google Replay allows you to review Twitter topics posted over time. “You can zoom to any point in time and “replay” what people were saying publicly about a topic on Twitter” says Dylan Casey, product manager for Real-Time Search. Google Replay allows you to see spikes in Tweets, which would indicate something interesting that day or hour happened and people were talking about it. Say a Historian of the Future wanted to look back on the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” repeal for the military. All they would have to do is know the date, and they could explore both sides of the argument through the many Twitter posts.
Truthfully before I started this research project I absolutely despised the idea of twitter, and social media bugged the crap out of me. All I saw it was an excuse for people to talk about parts of their lives that I don’t care about. I really didn’t care what people thought about that new flavor of Mountain dew that came out, I didn’t care that you bought the newest model BMW yesterday, I don’t care that you lost 20 pounds on the Krispy Kreme diet. It was all meaningless to me, but that is because I’m living in the same society and the same as all these people tweeting. But I can almost guarantee that if I were living 200 years in the future, I would a Twitter enthusiast. The meaningless topics of today would be historical gold in the future. As a history major and through exploration of my topic I’ve come to realize that Twitter is an amazing site, historically. And just because of the future I might look into making an account, probably not so much for me but so I can see what others are talking about.
Marc Raeff. Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier. New York, NY: Penguin Books USA, 1991. Print.
Dr. Anthony Curtis. “The Brief History of Social Media” uncp.edu. 2011. Web.
Twitter Historian. “Historical Conversations Noted in Twitter Presentation” historicaltweets.com. 2009. Web.
Christopher Beam. “How Future Historians will use the Twitter Archives” slate.com. April 20, 2010. Web
Dylan Casey. “Replay it: Google search across the Twitter archive” googleblog.blogspot.com. April 14, 2010. Web
Giles Crouch. “How might social media impact history?” mediabadger.com. August 08, 2011. Web
Social Media. The Merriam Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster.com. 2012. Web