“The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.”
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”, 1941
Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced (ironically, on their own Twitter stream) that they had acquired all public tweets since 2006 and would add said tweets to their national archives. It was easy to ridicule the Library’s decision initially, considering how inane, personal, and forgettable most Twitter streams seem to be (except for the dry, sardonic commentary of celebrities like Courtney Love, of course). But, if you really think about it, the decision seems like a refresingly progressive one on the part of the Library, very shrewd and savvy Research 2.0. In its mission statement, the Library states that one of its main functions and goals is to act as a “repository of a universal collection of human knowledge and the creative work of the American people”. So, to be truly universal, of course the Library would have to collect even the most minor acts of creation, from a random American’s reaction to Iranian unrest to a bit of blue wisdom from Shit My Dad Says. The Library must assume that writing something on Twitter is equivalent to an act of creation, an addition to a larger and fledgling dialog of American life in the 21st century. Plus, it makes every Tweeter a pseudo-published author, which is a nice bonus!
Jorge Luis Borges was a brilliant Argentinian writer who spent the majority of his life in libraries. His adoration and fascination of libraries, as well as the dizzying collections of thoughts and feelings and fears they represented for him, was memorialized in his short story “The Library of Babel.” In a not-so-strange way, I see a real connection between the LOC’s Twitter acquisition and some of the ideas that Borges tried to express in his story. The story takes place inside a library, one so enormous that the people who traverse it consider it the universe; the people who inhabit it spend their whole lives searching for the tract that explains the universe and some go mad in the pursuit.
Borges was fascinated by ideas of infinity and repetition, patterns emerging out of humanity’s quest for a finite and complete understanding of knowledge and its impossibility in an infinite universe. Twitter is by no means transcendent, but it is also a huge database of a collective and codified American consciousness. It’s even time-stamped…we have had no record of creative, daily thought like this before. I think Borges would’ve been fascinated by the ramifications of a consciousness codebook like Twitter, especially as it expands.
If we continue to catalog social media and our most minute, day-to-day ramblings, will something meaningful eventually emerge? Are we all monkeys typing gibberish that eventually becomes Shakespeare? Or, as Borges tried to explain it in a rather elegant metaphor, are we creating one book that has an infinite amount of pages–one tome that contains The Order (big O)? Keep typing and I guess we’ll find out.