It’s a pretty common perception that social media platforms like blogs and Facebook are modern iterations of the diary. You’ll see that argument made by academics who study contemporary life writing, by journalists who are interested in the development and use of social media, and by bloggers and Facebook-ers themselves. These different forms of self-expression have some things in common: they are self-disclosing records of life, often daily, usually mundane, and sometimes extremely private. There are obvious differences, of course — differences that have been analyzed closely by literary critics — notably that social media makes the text available to an audience of strangers and that the audience engages with, responds to, and essentially collaborates on the text.
Twitter, however, seems to be of another species altogether. Generally speaking, Twitter is less about individually recorded lives and more about conversation, debate, and sharing. You are much less likely to encounter the argument that Twitter is like, in any way, a diary — and I tend to agree with that distinction. If I were to make analogies, I would be more likely to compare Twitter to a telegram, to newspaper headlines, or to the running scroll at the bottom of the TV screen — short, impersonal announcements about events occurring in the public sphere.
Derryl Murphy is breaking down such distinctions with his @TrapperBud Twitter feed, where he is tweeting his grandfather’s diary. Bud Murphy was a trapper in the Northwest Territories in the 1920s and 30s and kept a daily record of his experiences. Derryl illuminates Bud’s narrative with illustrations and occasional commentary on his grandfather’s life. Here’s a post from Derry’s blog discussing the Twitter project. It is an intriguing use of Twitter: part recovery, part publication, part personal narrative. Plus, Bud lived a really incredible life — the kind of life that seems increasingly impossible in our world, one tied to nature and nature’s rhythms. I would love to know more about why Bud kept the diary in the first place. In the meanwhile, I look forward to seeing Bud’s “voice” intermingling with other tweets in my Twitter feed.