His own tweets were extremely boring; bland promotional links or seasonal announcements (‘Summer is coming. Quark Cola never tastes so good as at a backyard BBQ!’). Nevertheless, once posted, he watched the retweets and favourites amass. Often he visited the accounts of the retweeters, trying to establish what kind of person reposted the announcements of an impersonal soda drink corporation. But Twitter pages of individuals held a strange opacity of their own. A tiny mugshot, a list of tweets, and a personal network that you could sense but couldn’t see from the outside. Replies and retweets from other unknowable accounts. No context, no usable chronology. It was like having access to a stranger’s phonebook.
Pierce Gleeson in "Four Million Followers," a perfect short story which calls to mind a question that interests me: how will fiction be written, how will the interior world of the human mind be conveyed, now that so many of its elements depend for their description on branded language, non-words with ephemeral meanings, temporarily-universal but easily-forgotten software conventions? How intelligible will any of what we experience be to those just a decade older or younger?
Love affairs and suicide-threats within the confines of streams on screens, annotated with @s and requiring familiarity with all these little accidents of technology: how can this be turned into literature? Twitter is unlikely to endure even as long as ham radio, but what can one say about a typical contemporary teenager without mentioning the performative passive-aggression of the so-called sub-tweet? Language is being de-genericized; many necessary phrases are proprietary (and ludicrous), but worse is that whole constellations of words and ideas fade from our sky nightly, and are replaced by newer, brighter arrays by morning.
Soon no computer will have a manual: all devices will be listening, waiting to be touched, eager to understand you as you are, responsive to your intuitively-expressed desires; and all novels will come with manuals explaining “key concepts” and describing the relative synchronousness of this or that protocol, the trademarked terms of discarded products. While it’s only an acceleration of what has always been the case —after all, one must read about patronymics, footnotes about old customs, and so on in novels from the past— changes in degree can become changes in kind. Perhaps the novel won’t die from an absence of readers, but simply because who can write quickly enough? Readers will snicker at characters’ social networks as you might if you opened a book detailing a courtship over Friendster.