The last time we featured graphic designer Jaap Smit on It’s Nice That, he spoke about his personal practice and his publishing venture, Odd Publications, which he co-founded with his friend and colleague, programmer Darien Brito. The year before, the duo had released their first book project, titled Internet Audience: Youtube Dictionary, which took the comment sections of Youtube and made them physical in the form of an indexed dictionary. The publication explored how such comments changed in weight and gravity when printed on paper. At the heart of this exploration was a desire to give some notion of permanence to online data. It’s this same desire that drives Odd Publications’ most recent release: A Tweet History.
This colossal book takes 600 pages worth of a user’s tweets and transforms them, along with the format of Twitter itself, into a historical printed artefact. In doing so, Jaap and Darien interrogate the same ideas of information overload, data excess, and the ramifications of being overwhelmed by such things. Concerning the latter, the duo were interested in how such abundance of this type of material can affect the way people think, communicate and act. “Due to the impermanence of the web page model and our inability as a society to cope with the wealth of information that is being constantly uploaded, both the reprehensible and the valuable have uniformity online,” explains Jaap. “We find this troubling and wanted to highlight that there are mechanisms on which we can reclaim our data. We are trying to give people the ability to make their own online content tangible.”
The duo chose Donald Trump as their first user with which to produce a Tweet History book, due to his frequent activity on the platform and the scandalous nature of his tweets. Coupled with his position of power and influence, making physical his online commentary becomes a “very bleak and permanent reminder of the absurdity in the current political arena, not only in the United States, but around the globe.” Trump was the perfect way to exemplify Jaap and Darien’s theory that, if given a different context, our tweets suddenly appear in a completely different light.
Darien says they began by attempting to transform the digital format of Twitter into a literary form. “Typography played a very important role in doing this. Simply by changing a Sans Serif into a Serif, the text has a totally different feeling. Next to that you will notice, for instance, that hashtags are italicised without the numeral (#) sign, or that emoji’s are described as what they are. So, instead of printing the image of a heart, we literally wrote ‘a red heart’. Details like this make the content more book-like and help in reading it differently.” The finishing touch was to visualise the popularity of each tweet contained within the book, with a higher line indicating a higher quantity of retweets and likes.
But what ideas about the age that we live in does this project communicate? Well, to begin with, that there is an unfathomable amount of data out there, but also that this data is incredibly opaque. The sheer quantity of it “makes it very hard for us to parse the trash from the gems and that systematically cripples our ability to acknowledge what we see, read, say or publish on the internet,” explains Darien. “We have become, as a result, less careful of thought, less able to take criticism, more likely to be sheltered in our own set of opinions, and more hostile to our peers, since there is little consequence to what we say in the virtual world.”
A Tweet History affords us a space, away from the “unintelligible soup of triviality” that is the online world, for self reflection and revision. It serves as an important reminder of the impact of our digital activity, not to mention its existence in the first place. It provides people with a tool through which they can archive not just their comments and opinions, but their previous selves – something they can come back to later to acknowledge just how right – or terribly wrong – they were. “We feel that people are unaware of how important their online content can be, particularly to themselves,” says Jaap. “It is interesting to imagine what would happen if tomorrow all of it is gone. Some things are deserving of being preserved.”
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