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The Woman Who Read the Whole Internet

It all started at a party, when someone asked her, "Did you see the 'New Statesman''s response to that Taylor Swift tweet about the 'n+1' piece on listicle culture?"

by Monica Heisey
Feb 24 2016, 8:15pm

Photo by Alita Ong via Stocksy

Stephanie's gnarled fingers clicked the window closed. "It's finished," she croaked through chapped, wrinkled lips. "It's all finished." Her words echoed in the empty room. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling. In one corner, a cat decomposed peacefully next to the blackened remains of some succulents, abandoned decades ago. Now, her work was finally done. Now, at last, she could rest.

It had started a lifetime ago—in 2016, at a party, out with friends. She'd worn her favorite shoes, a pair of white Vans her sister had given her. "Damn, Daniel," a girl she followed on Instagram but pretended not to know in real life had said as she entered the room. A stranger added, "Back at it again with the white Vans!" Stephanie had been puzzled but laughed it off. The girl was a weirdo, always tweeting about having had coffee with people, like "just had a latte with @sarahbeckmannnn, what a treasure!" Fine.

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Later, by the snacks, it happened again. "Damn, Daniel!" her crush said teasingly. Stephanie could tell from his tone and the way his kind, social media manager's eyes twinkled as he said it that it was supposed to be flirtatious. But she had no idea what he meant. To avoid him, she struck up a conversation with a man she occasionally flirted with on Facebook chat when she was bored. "Man, I'm so glad I backed Sine Media's new feminist explainer," he said. "They're doing such vital, necessary work." Stephanie stared at him blankly. She felt like she might throw up.

In line for the bathroom, a bunch of girls were Instagramming their manicures on top of an Important Book. Stephanie breathed a sigh of relief. "I loved that book," she said. "I can't wait for the TV show." The girls stared at her blankly. "Oh... no. Actually, this is a semi-autobiographical novelette about friendship in a post-capitalist sexscape." Stephanie's face flushed pink. "Wait," said another girl, who had just finished underlining the part most relevant to her own life. "Have you not... read it?"

Stephanie ran from the party, out into the street. She was breathing heavily; the hip, tree-lined neighborhood span around her. A cluster of young men approached menacingly. "Hey baby," the tallest, scariest one shouted out. "Did you see the New Statesman's response to that Taylor Swift tweet about the n+1 piece on listicle culture?" The bros crowded around her. "Do you think the longread is dead?"

She ran from them, screaming. That night, she began.

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Stephanie sequestered herself in her junior one bedroom, erecting a barricade of old New Yorkers and burning advertising inserts for warmth. She started with quizzes about 90s pop culture, then worked her way through upsetting first-person journalism and essays about trying on a different style of clothing than usual. She spent her 30s on "It Happened To Me"s. Her friends and family mourned her like she was dead, until with time it was they who began to die. She did not miss them, just like she did not miss natural light. Slowly, her spine settled in to a comfortable hunch.

The years passed, and her work became easier as publications began to shut down en masse. The voice-y blogs of the aughts died somewhere around her 50th birthday, quietly, and all at once. She finished their archives and moved on. It was hard to keep up with the ones who survived—across Snapchat, Tumblr, Facebook Instant Articles, and, in an unlikely 2045 twist, Friendster—but Soylent kept her full, and a new, very dangerous caffeine/Adderall hybrid kept her awake. Bags formed under her eyes. She muttered slugs to herself, rocking back and forth whimpering: ten-thoughts-about-thots-and-other-thoughts. When Twitter finally folded, she wept.

When it was all over, she looked around at what she had become: a shriveled shell of a woman, pallid and dry. Her back sore, her eyes milky. She closed them, now, gathering her tattered robe around herself and preparing for death. As it washed over her she felt euphoric, ready. There would be no Internet where she was going. It would be the sweetest rest. She inhaled sharply: It was happening. As her eyes closed, she whispered, "Damn, Daniel."