Twitter recently launched a very impressive archive download feature.
I took this as a good opportunity to do what I’d been thinking about for a while – backing up and deleting the thousands of pointless remarks I’ve posted to the Web.
Last week I deleted the majority of my 18,000+ tweets going back to 2008. I even deleted my customarily enthralling first tweet. I have this historic moment (as pictured) in my downloaded archive, but it’s gone from Twitter.
18,000 is a lot of tweets and I wanted to keep some too, so I wrote some code to do it. This code allows me to keep tweets under a month old, plus protect anything favourited or retweeted more than a certain number of times. I run this once per day to prune my timeline. You can do the same if you can run Node JS.
People think I’m weird for dong this, and I struggle to articulate why I did it. Sometimes I’m not even sure why I did. It’s partly my obsessive compulsion to keep things tidy. In my view the majority of these tweets were of zero value to the public Internet, so in the absence of a good reason to keep them online, I decided to take them offline.
I accept and embrace that my tweets are public, and as much as I hate to “break the Web” that doesn’t mean I want my tweets to live forever. That is not why I tweet. I tweet for the wonderful immediacy and reach of the medium, not to store a permanent record in the Great Archive. Who’s to say that three years after a making a comment I even agree with myself anymore? Read back some of your early tweets and tell me you don’t cringe!
Another factor in my reasoning is my paranoia about what today’s data might be used for tomorrow, but in the case of Twitter it’s probably too late for that. Unless your account is private, as soon as you post a tweet the data is gobbled up and stored by a God-knows-how-many third parties. However, this is the best I can do to assert my ownership over this data, so I’m taking it.
If I’m truly honest with myself about my motives, all the above is post-rationalisation. I think I’m just plain uncomfortable with the concept of digital permanence. It’s something we’re very new to living with and without knowing whether its impact will be positive or negative I instinctively view it as unnatural, therefore I treat it with suspicion.