As ethereal as the internet seems sometimes, it is also an amazing archive of words and language. Tweets are stored with the Library of Congress (and perhaps other government agencies), entire web sites are slurped up into archive.org, and deleting your LinkedIn profile remains a mystery. We know these facts intuitively and while we often discuss the privacy implications of this reality, it’s also striking to see how that archival quality can come to life in new ways.
I’ve been following LA-based artist Daniel Rehn’s @wwwtxt for a few months now. The premise is simple: Rehn culls from internet messages posted between 1988 and 1994, before, as he writes on his site, “the multimedia revolution began to shape Web 1.0 and the modern internet.” He then finds tweet-sized chunks of text and sends them out regularly on his Twitter account.
They were early days, the 80’s and 90s’s internet, and he describes them best:
The users of this era were not only programmers, physicists, and university residents — they were also tinkerers, early-adopters, whiz kids, and nerds. Their conversations and documents — valiantly preserved by digital archivists — are fractured across numerous services, increasingly offline-only, and incredibly voluminous (100GB+).
Rehn’s sources read like a journey through history, with sites like Usenet, FidoNet, CompuServe and Gopher, as well as “abandoned personal documents.” He notes that some messages are modified “for length and clarity”, but otherwise he simply curates messages that seem to resonate in isolation. As these tweets go out, they appear alongside my contemporary Twitter feed, and it’s a lovely mashup of internet history and the present-day internet, sometimes with surprising effect.
Another terrific resource is the image archive. Like the text posts Rehn curates, these images resonate because we can recognize our present in them as much as we see our past. Many read visually like precursors to the memes and animated GIFs of today. Others are totally mysterious. It’s a lovely dip through time, and Rehn takes us on a terrific journey.