The 18th-Century Patron Saint of Live Tweeting

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While it's easy to wonder if the always-on, quick-post tools of now have eroded our expectations of privacy, art critic Ari Messer demonstrates at The Rumpus that being forced to live out loud is at least as old as Samuel Johnson. 

James Boswell, became Johnson's tireless biographer, or at least stenographer. As the two men grew closer together, Boswell took it upon himself to -- and this is an 18th century word -- journalize Johnson's every saying. 

It wasn't long before Boswell was writing down absolutely everything that Johnson said, sometimes with actual paper and pen, sometimes by recall, and this journalizing began to spark public outcry, cartoons of Boswell as a sycophant hungry for quotes at dinner parties, "anonymous" letters of moral outrage... 
Soon Johnson was even altering his own speech, live-editing his own phrases to make them sound more "Johnsonian." Commenting on a play, Johnson once said, "It has not wit enough to keep it sweet," then gave a cancel-that expression and changed this saying to, "It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrification." Johnson greatly distrusted fame and public opinion, and would make such re-statements with a certain humor, but Boswell ate them up. His great talent seems to have been an ability to simultaneously miss the joke and write it down.
So, recall James Boswell the next time you go to a conference and watch some haggard blogger journalizing 120-character quote after 120-character quote from the eminent figure on stage.

Update 4:36 PST: Thanks to reader Celia, I cleared up some confusion on my part about Boswell's first name.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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