Having just read Lorraine Daston’s “Things That Talk” (an interdisciplinary perspective of objects that “speak” to us), and with a live streaming Twitter feed in my head, I was pleasantly surprised to find the two in cahoots. Specifically, Anke te Heesen’s chapter on newspaper clippings in and around the 1920s.
Now, before you throw on your zoot suit and swing your way away for a gin and tonic, pull up a chair and listen to what I have to say….or else it’s curtains for ya. Compiling newspaper clippings was a huge deal then. There were actual jobs where people tracked particular names, subjects or topics throughout various newspapers and then marked them. Another person cut and pasted them, assembling an archive of sorts. This really happened, for various reasons. Bureaus were set up in major cities with the intent of pursuing this information. If I understand correctly, the forefront of this was the artist or celebrity who, as “publicity sensitive creatures” (p. 303) were very interested in their media coverage. These clipping services helped them to build upon their own success. It’s no different from now, where people “Google” themselves, or put their plaques, awards, diplomas, certificates, local news write-up, or letter to the editor on their wall. We’re attention starved creatures and we writers (most of us, I believe) absorb attention like dry sponges dropped in a full bathtub.
Eventually these clipping services began to serve a broader appeal. Mechanics interested in the workings of a certain component could request all clippings related to it. Companies began to request clippings to pursue trends. It was a way of viewing the moving world. Then it occurred to me, that this was the predecessor of some of our data addicted practices today. We #hashtag search in twitter for “clipping topics” we want to follow. We find people we are interested in and we @follow them. We subscribe to their blogs or join web circles or forums of like-minded individuals. These are merely evolved forms of the early clipping service. Only now, instead of an office filled with women searching and boys clipping (Daston, p. 304) we have computers doing all of the work.
What was of even greater significance to me, was the clipping as a source of cultural history. The collected material began to be realized as a “picture of time” (Daston, p. 315). In the first few weeks of our Research Methods for Writers class we discussed Twitter and the historical significance of moments like the political upheaval in Egypt. As things were happening there, people were “tweeting” about their experiences, using the hash tag #Jan25. Theoretically, a historian could collect and archive all of these #Jan25 tweets to examine the events of Egypt’s move toward democracy. It’s staggering if you think about it, the trends and events that can be examined from a multitude of various sources, all disparate in their cultural, social, geographical, religious and political beliefs, but recorded for history’s sake in their assessment and experience of one event. Wow.
Everything we publish online, every comment, blog, tweet, post, status update, text, email and send is or can be recorded for compounding and understanding our own history and world dynamic.
So, if you are reading this some time long from now, after my bones are dust in the ground, know that I was a great emperor. The leader of the mightiest nation on Earth. I ruled for thousands of years, with my lightsaber, “Excalibur”. Once, I stopped a mighty asteroid from striking our world and another time I fought a giant gorilla atop the Empire States Building. I grew tired of this world and built a “Death Star”, zooming off to sail the seas of space with my friend Captain Jack Sparrow and Magnum P.I.
Hmmm….someone better examine these data clippings pretty closely. Preferably a Dadaist, I think I’d have more luck with my “interpretation.”