According to the syllabus, it looks like I missed a discussion on Twitter fiction this past Thursday. I’m quite bummed about that because Twitter is actually my main creative outlet, and I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about its unique narrative capabilities.
In 2009, my friend Claire bugged me to get a Twitter long enough that I eventually did. I was hardly even on the Facebook train at that point, and Snapchat was nothing more than a gleam in its creator’s eye. I found quickly that I didn’t “get it”—a sentiment many have shared with me since. It’s hard to get started on Twitter. Do you just start talking to yourself? Should you follow some famous people you’re interested in? And what are all these strange, fake-looking accounts doing following you?
I’m going to intentionally avoid any discussion of Twitter as a company—their unprofitability, ad structure, etc. As an end-user, my experience on Twitter is pretty simple to summarize: I use it as a public, semi-anonymous diary in which my account acts as a digital alter ego.
After 2009, I largely forgot about my Twitter account until two years later, when a friend re-sold me on it with the simple claim, “You can say whatever you want. It’s great!” I followed her back, found the few other people I knew from real life who had accounts, and proceeded to do just that. But this time around, I bothered to google, “who to follow on twitter,” and that’s where it all went downhill for my productivity. Actually—that’s false. Reddit’s where I waste time. Twitter is where my day-to-day poet comes to life.
That Google search pointed me to @Horse_ebooks, my first encounter with what would become Weird Twitter. The listicle described Ebooks as a bot that randomly selected quotes from electronic books relating, perhaps, to horses—nobody really knew—and tweeted them for all to see. Its garbled, at times senseless style led to somewhat of a cult following, and every now and then, Ebooks would churn out something unexpectedly poetic:
You just never knew what you were going to get. Ebooks had its last tweet on September 24th, 2013 (“Bear Stearns Bravo”), but for many, this was just the beginning of a half-meme, half-lazy art form. At some point in 2013 I began to stumble across various fictitious accounts that all seemed to have a trend to them: an obscure comic book character, a badly pixelated image of somebody’s face, a psychedelic turtle. It’s hard to properly encapsulate the trend; as with many dispersed memes, you just know when you see it.
Along with this visual aesthetic, and a grammatical style similar to Ebooks’ glitchy rants, these accounts tended to produce a sort of detached humor. Part surreal, part absurd, something in the Twitter joke spoke to me.
In the above example, Fred Delicious displays many of the key elements of this style of joke: atypical capitalization, use of asterisks to designate action, elements of surrealism, and underlying, a basic pun or lewd joke.
Since 2013, Weird Twitter’s styles have diverged and evolved. Some other typical examples include Wint and James Nielssen:
In the past two years, a new, humorless style has taken shape, one more heavily steeped in surrealism:
Through the years, I’ve found Twitter to be a fantastic outlet for the short, possibly witty things that pop into my head while I’m in the shower or am just about to fall asleep. It’s sort of a similar pleasure to having a radio show that nobody listens to—you get to feel like you have an audience for your thoughts, but without any of the responsibilities. Though I used to use my real name and image, I’ve since shifted to a fictitious character, whose wacky aphorisms are both my own and, in a way, his own. The constraint of 140 characters forces us to use new grammatical and narrative techniques, sometimes stringing one tweet after another to create a longer story.
Recently reflecting, I realized that if I could only keep one social media outlet, it’d have to be Twitter. Having a kooky alter ego who says whatever he wants somehow keeps me saner in the real world, I think. And of course, as soon as I had that thought, I tweeted it.