P085: Historian or Hoarder?


Dave Winer is someone who knows a thing or two about Big Ideas: he’s the inventor of RSS, the very first podcaster and one of the earliest bloggers. A tireless advocate for the independent publisher, Winer has also had a long-running fixation on what he calls the future-safe web:

“The concern is that the record we’re creating is fragile and ephemeral, so that to historians of the future, the period of innovation where we moved our intellectual presence from physical to electronic media will be a blank spot, with almost none of it persisting. If, for example, this website were to persist, you would be able to read these words, at their permanent address, many years into the future.”

If Dave Winer wants to get the web to a place where future-safety is a possibility, at least on an opt-in basis, he’ll do it. His track record has proven that much, at least.


And now here’s an article from February about people who delete their tweets after a few days. Author Robin Sloan is quoted as such:

“I have to admit that I cannot remember, with perfect clarity, the moment I decided I was going to be a tweet deleter,” he says. “I assume I was taking a spin back through old tweets and decided, ehh, this is not a great contribution to the historical record.”

The 140 character limit of a tweet naturally encourages brevity and occasionally informality in discourse. There’s way less gravitas compared to a Medium post and an infinite amount less than, say, walking up and nailing your blog post to the door of a church. Turns out: the life span of a post on Fusion is at least seven months.


If you could record your whole life, would you do it? Would you go back and relive those moments? Would you painstakingly maintain ever-expanding data structures to accommodate the flow of data? Is the archive valuable to you or your family or historians or (more likely) as a data point in a massive aggregate for advertisers? Conversely, if you could wash it all away, would you? No more #tbt, no more nostalgia, no regrets.

Computers are really, really good at remembering things and have been for a long time. But as technology has evolved, we have gone from merely using computers to inhabiting them. The idea that your online presence is distinct from your real-world identity is laughable to the average American 16 year old. So while it’s natural for humanity to see the computer age as an opportunity to get a do-over for the Library of Alexandria, it also makes sense to have our online interactions more closely model our day-to-day.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron