It has been said that "the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." I have no idea who said this; I thought it was Aristotle, but a quick Google search reveals that it has been variously attributed to Samuel Johnson and Warren Buffett. I neither know nor care where the attribution actually goes. But I started thinking about it this morning because Twitter was down.
At some point in the six years I have been using Twitter, it passed from novel smartphone app to becoming lodged deep in my brain. It is ubiquitous in a way that feels like it encompasses everything that happens in the universe, and yet it is also impossible to explain to anyone who isn't intensely emotionally invested in reading celebrities' dumb opinions. It is through Twitter that we live, move, and have our being, and it's definitely a big component of why everyone is angry and miserable all the time. I love the tiny hate machine that beams horrible words and images into my eyes at the beginning and close of the day and virtually every moment in between. I must love it, surely, because I have spent more time scrolling down it's endless parade of tedium and outrage than I have actively enjoying my life—whatever that was.
But then sometimes Twitter goes down. This used to happen pretty frequently Back in the Day, when Online still felt like the Wild West, where the reign of digital anarchy and Tree_Bro posts was interrupted only by the visage of the Fail Whale. Do you remember the Fail Whale? What happened to the Fail Whale, gently lifted from the sea by a happy troupe of birds? Why now do we gaze instead upon the panicked robot with the dismembered hand? Is this a new barbarous image for our new barbarous times? Where the fuck did the whale go?
Twitter going down for more than ten minutes is basically an international emergency. There is a lot of frantic refreshing and bargaining with the devil. "But I have a good post," you plead, unaware of the basic truth that all posts are, of their nature, shit. It is impossible to function without the tiny endorphin shot that comes from seeing your mentions light up. They even light up now if you retweet something good and other people on your timeline like and retweet it, for an extra unearned reward. It's like exacting psychic rent. It's genius, even if you later pay for bleeding your pleasure hormones dry when you completely flame out on stimulation overload. There is no free neurological lunch.
The visage of the broken robot is the cipher of your liberty.
All of this is ironic because on the rare occasion that a post actually does blow up all you want to do is throw your phone into the sea to avoid all the people shouting at you, that you're fucking hilarious or you're fucking shit, and this is garbage and how dare you and I hope you fucking die and hey here's a link to my mixtape on Soundcloud you should definitely listen to it but when you don't I will definitely email you repeatedly in the future calling you a cunt for some reason. Twitter is the worst when it takes you out of the carefully curated bubble you have constructed for yourself into the wider world of people who will disagree angrily with you about the basic facets of your existence. Except this is also when it's at its best because it's also comforted the afflicted by allowing them to directly afflict the comfortable. Democracy in media cuts both ways just like God is both perfect justice and perfect mercy.
But after ten minutes of agony, you realize things don't have to be this way. The visage of the broken robot is the cipher of your liberty. You were always free to walk away from the machine and that there was a long stretch of human history where absolutely none of this shit was meaningful to anyone, that you can disconnect from the society of the spectacle before it completely colonizes your brain, that we have but a single day that is given to us over and over again to do with as we will until it isn't anymore and that maybe there is a more fulfilling use of our time than trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel one 140-character brick at a time, that—
Oh shit, Twitter's back up? Thank God. All I had was Facebook, and I was starting to lose my mind.
What's the Voltaire quote again? "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Hell yeah. Crossposting that one to all my social feeds.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.