Social Media: The Time Capsule Of The 21st Century

One of the most interesting things I took home with me from the #140conf in Tel Aviv was an idea introduced by Jeff Pulver in his welcoming speech – the idea of social media and the real time web as the time capsule of the 21st century. Years from now we will be able to look back at status updates on Twitter, YouTube videos and blog posts and see exactly what was going on in the world on any given day. I think that is an amazing thought.

Years ago, when I was ten years old, I put together a time capsule in a shoe box and hid it in the back of my closet to open up when I turned thirty. I opened it up a couple of years early, but what I found in that shoebox eighteen years later gave me a glimpse into my life as a ten year old. I wrote a letter to myself, predicting what the year 2012 would look like, complete with flying cars, colonies on Mars and a popular futuristic toy called GI Toe, a big toe with a metal helmet. I put a Barbie doll in the box, a pair of my favorite pink socks, and a keychain I made out of gymp (remember gymp?!). However, as personal and exciting my time capsule was for me, it was nothing compared to the wealth of information we are now saving for our future selves on the web.
Let’s start with Twitter. In April of this year, the US Library of Congress announced that it has acquired the entire archive of tweets from Twitter and will keep them on file, starting with the first tweet by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in March of 2006. That means that there will be a record for eternity of everything you and every other Twitter user has ever Tweeted, from what you had for lunch last September to how you felt when Obama was elected into office and who you’ve been rooting for at this year’s World Cup. Maybe you think your tweets are insignificant, but imagine how cool it will be fifty or one hundred years from now when historians can look back to see which topics were trending on particular days or what people were saying about exciting historical events. Imagine if Twitter had existed during World War II or the day John Lennon died and we had a record of what people were tweeting about. I for one think that would be pretty amazing.
And it’s not only tweets and blogs that we will be able to look back on years from now. YouTube and other video sites are chock-full of interesting videos about what has been going on in the world for the last five years, and new videos are uploaded every day. YouTubers are uploading videos about every topic you can think about, from fashion to sports, politics to comedy and everything in between, not to mention the fact that almost every popular recording artist has music videos on YouTube. Years from now we will be able to watch videos from today with a quick YouTube search to see how people were dressing, what music they were listening to, and how people were reacting to different events going on in the world.
Before Jeff Pulver’s welcoming speech at the #140conf I hadn’t taken the time to think about how amazing it is that we are compiling our own history into a real-time time capsule on the web. We are making our mark in a way that was never possible before and inspiring our own future selves by keeping a complete record of our own pasts.
Take a look back at some of the blog posts you wrote years ago, videos you uploaded just after YouTube’s launch, or tweets you posted when you first opened your Twitter account. How does it make you feel? What do you think about the idea of social media and the real time web as the time capsule of the 21st century?