Well, that was summer
It’s the end of a long, strange summer. This year, a season marked by destruction. In the natural world, heaving wildfires left huge swathes of Canada scorched and barren. In the digital environment, a similar all-consuming force of devastation, a billionaire, swept through Twitter and left it in a like state.
The forests will eventually replenish; already there is fireweed, a lush violet against the blackened curling trunks of the jack pines. Moose will return. The deer mice. Twitter will not. It has reached extinction threshold. By Independence Day scrolling Twitter felt like wandering a silent and ruined city. Now it’s not even called Twitter. It’s called “X,” the same letter that cartoonists draw in place of the characters’ eyes when the aim is to denote that whatever life was once there is now over, departed, gone. As names go, it’s…well…atrocious. But this is the same man who routinely bestows upon his children names akin to things you’d see on a list of available WiFi networks.
I tried Threads. It’s hard to articulate what that was like. Almost like walking into a vast, sprawling shopping mall and suddenly a brand rep from every single store—no, more like a brand rep from every piece of merchandise in the mall, like the individual stuff they sell in the vending machines—is upon you, right in your face. Here is Sephora. Here is Slim Jim. They’re not trying to sell you anything though. That would be normal, infinitely less violating. Instead they are, for whatever reason, just trying out uniformly awful comedic material on you, making you wonder if the résumés for social media specialists are all typed up in exclusively lower case letters. Beyond the brands there were musicians, most of whom make music that I completely hate but who were, nonetheless, right there on my screen, pretending to be interested in chitchatting with me, making little idle small talk and telling me that they had a tasty little frittata for breakfast.
Threads’ algorithm seemed feral. I started looking for a ‘Following’ tab. Nothing. So I kept scrolling, looking for some piece of content with which to interact. To ‘like’ in hopes of beginning to train the algorithm. It offered me nothing of the sort. It just kept breathlessly making suggestions. Maybe you like Hillary Clinton? She’s here. How about Dunkin’ Donuts. You like Dunkin’ Donuts, right? Photos from the Barbie premiere yes surely you must. Here haha look here is a picture of Master posing shirtless with two MMA fighters in advance of his cage match with Elon. Mute. Block. Mute. Block. Block.
Is this even helping, I wondered. It felt like I was clearing dense brush with safety scissors. And for what? What was I try to get at anyway? What lay beyond this vast brand-strewn frontier of irritating and insufferable affectation? My actual friends on Instagram? That barely literate bunch? Am I honestly even interested in seeing what they do with the written word? Didn’t I mute all of them on Instagram specifically because I witnessed what they were capable of doing with large blocks of text after George Floyd? I closed Threads and haven’t re-opened it.
For a few days the smoke from the distant wildfires in Canada hung over the city. A vast expanse of soot reaching down into America and tinging everything beneath it a kind of marmalade. The light bent eerily and weird; its hue unbelonging to any hour of day. There was a breeze that tasted and faces were all raised toward a sky through which it looked like maybe God’s own hand might reach. Waiting at a crosswalk I stood across the street from a small boy who studied the strange light, the altered appearance of things before him. He regarded it wordless like he was remembering it from a bad dream. A runner went by in total defiance, and the scene was such that you almost half expected a trailing horde of undead to appear in pursuit.
The day before this—before the sky in New York City became one of Christian reckoning—Dr. Cornel West announced his candidacy for president of the United States of America. These two events strike me as not entirely unconnected. After all, the election is shaping up to be a very spiritual affair. The incumbent has again cast the nation’s soul as the object at the very center of the conflict between the forces of reaction and liberalism. It is the same ante that was set in 2020. And even though I’m not paying much attention to Cornel West’s campaign (I suspect his critics, like they did with Marianne Williamson and her crystals, are casting aspersions on his idealism, playing up the eccentricities and accusing him of believing that the problems of America can be solved if we just all really listened to Curtis Mayfield), if we must once more be told to conceive of the election in these grave and weighty terms, then I think we are owed, at the very least, one individual whose own soul is fit to enter into the strife. And Cornel West, whatever else you might think of him, has indeed a great and formidable soul. If nothing else a critique of contemporary America that draws its force from the Book of Revelation will be welcomed.
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