Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Tweets of the Dead...

Something I read on Dick Jones' blog a while ago got me wondering just how much of the early internet (well, the stuff I knew when we first got a PC) is still there? I still update my very old “tripod” site now and again, although it is rather like the old broom that's had three new heads and three new handles. This is almost certainly the case with most sites. Publishing what you want on the internet is almost as easy as breathing – but then so is deleting it.

I hunted round to see what I could find of the sites I used to visit back then. Perhaps it reflected what I spent my time looking at, but it seemed to me that one of the most enduring aspects of the internet was humour. There are people out there tending archives of jokes, urban myths and funny stories the way other people tend window boxes. I quickly found the rinkworks dialectizer (if you don't know it, try sticking your deathless prose in its cockney translator) and The Fun People Archive. (The latter, run by one Peter Langston, was a manually compiled and distributed mailing list. You sent in jokes and stories. He sent them out. I sent one in, once). The Archive was the first place I came across the case of the infamous exploding whale. It sounds like an urban myth, but, as you probably know already, it isn't: the original news-footage can be seen on YouTube. I suspect the details have been exaggerated over time, but I rather like this story as it's the only non-fictional case I've heard of of a whale getting its own back, even if it was posthumously.

It's only a few decades since the hapless Oregon Highways Department blew up the dead whale – but what would it be like if the internet had been around for a thousand years? The peasantry wouldn't have got within a hundred miles of it – but it would be good, now, to be able to read about the day-to-day lives of the barons and their hangers on, the monks, etc. I'm not just thinking of graphic descriptions of the black death and suchlike, but more commonplace, day-to-day trivia. Come the Restoration, Samuel Pepys would have been one among hundreds. Then there would be Oscar Wilde's Twitter page...

And what will it be like in the future? What if people in, say, 500 years time can read internet content going back hundreds of years?

This is all a bit of a game, I know. Machines are more vulnerable than books and, as I said earlier, deleting is easy. Most of all, no-one is going to want to keep skyscrapers full of computer hardware running just to preserve the tweets of dead people. But it does make you think. It's good to know there are web-archaeologists out there lovingly zipping up files and folders of web-obsolescence, preserving the way things were. I mean, can you remember when Yahoo looked like this?


The Weaver of Grass said...

I have to say that once my words have gone into cyberspace to be accessed by anybody out there, I rarely give them another thought. I used to keep them lovingly in a file, but now I view each post a bit like Bob Dylan viewed yesterday's paper. Is this such a bad thing?

Loren said...

Unfortunately, much of the time I spend updating my site is spent deleting old links that have disappeared.

Very few of the bloggers that originally linked to me still exist, though I hang on desperately to those that do exist.

I doubt I'll ever have the time to go back and fix all the links on individual entries that have expired.

Fortunately, I've never been very nostalgic or I think it might make me feel rather sad.

Dominic Rivron said...

WG: No bad thing. Horses for courses. I do like the idea, though, that stuff people write could be read a long time on the future. It gives it another dimension.

Loren: Running a blog is a bit like running a bath with the plug left out. People come, people go, it's always half full... :)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Sadly the fun police stopped me watching the videos or trying my cockney rhymes (grrr)

What if Jesus had had twitter - we could have had a debate about exactly who were the needy?

It should probably be noted that there WERE other diarists around the time of Peyps, but most have (correctly) been forgotten - and with the multitude of the web i suspect that these words will also mostly go unloved in centuries to come.

Probably for the best really

Dominic Rivron said...

DFTP: Thanks for dropping in. Sorry you couldn't get to the dialectizer or the FPA.

You're right, there would be a lot of dross to sift through - but then I think archaeologists quite like that kind of thing.

It may be, as you point out regarding Pepys, that the situation may be not very different to the non-internet past. A lot of what we do with computers in the present is not so very different to what we did without them. I think Ernesto Priego's never neutral blog is very interesting on this.