Sunday 10 March 2013

In The Now

I was going on yesterday about how BMI normal and ideal have changed places since the neolithic.  In The Information, James Gleick mentions, almost in passing, a change in attitude between Athens in its Golden Age and the present day.  It's about being at an event rather than recording that event.  We are fire-hosed with information now, so much that it's hard to pan out the gold from the wash. Gleick notes that the Library of Congress, whose original aspiration was to obtain a copy of every book ever published, is now extending its brief to recording every tweet - lest some hidden gems are discarded with the dross.  Partly this is because we can and part of it is an admirable respect for the Future - who knows what might be useful or interesting to those who come after us?  But we could surely have some editorial policy if only to reduce the redundancy: do we need to keep a 1000 retweets of Stephen Fry's tweets?
But what do I know?  In the mid 1990s, when I was trying to maintain a local copy of the DNA database (which was small enough then to make local copies a sensible aspiration), I was indignant that the database was being filled out with ESTs.  These are short, kinda-crappy-quality partial sequences which I felt then were just making it harder to find definitive full-length, high-quality, well-annotated gene sequences.  Less than 5 years later, a student of mine used these very ESTs to compile a complete inventory of the innate immune system of the chicken; years before 'proper' sequences became available with the complete chicken genome.
I have a techie friend who because he can records every action of his children as they grow up.  It's so obsessive that the kids have never seen the right side of his face.  He's so intent on the future that he's missing the present.
Gleick contrasts the tweet archive with an image of an Athenian crowd spilling out from the theatre 2500 years ago after watching the latest play by Sophocles. Because there were no camcorders then, the audience had been paying attention and because they were paying attention they were every one of them enturmoiled by the transcendent and eternal truth about the human condition that they had just witnessed and participated in.  In contrast to every shaggin' tweet, only seven of Sophocles' 90+ plays have come down to us - they can still move us to tears, I'm desolated that more haven't survived the mills of time and loss, but just maybe less is more. 

1 comment:

  1. As a minor "Twit" from a work perspective, I shudder to think that future generations will be so taken with navel gazing that a record of tweets would be of any interest...I'll have to exercise more caution;)