by Guy Walker
Just tweeting about it isn’t enough. If you want to have any effect on the world, you have to buy the place we now communicate from. Or better yet, become the Internet itself.
Of all of Elon Musk’s brilliant ideas—colonizing a planet already conquered by desertification instead of fixing this one, mining rare minerals for his electric cars, drilling tunnels under the vast hellscape of Los Angeles’ homeless infinity so his cars can whiz around in autonomous cogs, selling flamethrowers to kids because he liked the movie Spaceballs, naming his kid X Æ A-12—buying Twitter might be his best. It’s far from a done deal, but the desire is clearly there. He very well may end up spending $44 billion on buying this ephemeral fluttering realm where humans can clamor in their own privatized monstrosity of bias.
If he’s successful, it would be akin to ironic genius, because the Internet isn’t real. It’s an invisible demon that wants to control every second of your life. Look at yourself. You used to spend your time collecting flowers and drawing cute pictures of frogs. You used to walk barefoot through streams of moss and heavy reeds. You used to fly kites and make wishes every time a ladybug flew from the tip of your finger. Now, the streams are all dried up, and you’re staring wild-eyed into a rectangle, ignoring the wild beauty out your window. The Internet is this other make-believe dimension of tremendous banality that sucks your face into a vortex of pixelated gore. It’s like one of those glow lamps on the edge of a white-picketed porch attracting the masses of mosquitos like possessed evangelists, and incinerates them like a marshmallow roasted over the atomic bomb.
And Twitter especially. To really experience Twitter on a carnal level is to be trapped inside a casino high on mushrooms, the half-mustered musings and reactionary conspiratorial rants spinning out of control like the infinity of the rolling turbines of slot machines. Twitter itself is hell. It’s the festerings of illiterate lunatics, the desperate pleas for some ubiquitous tone of irony and pre-programmed wit, the desperation for a moment of going viral within the microcosm of their own arena. To have an account on Twitter is bad enough—to participate in this anarchic duel, to want to be a part of a conversation of drooling armies. But to want to own this public arena and its 330 million monthly active users is to suffer some advanced level of dementia.
Something terrible could happen if Musk buys the social media giant. At heart, he’s a loner and a nerd, his high-end hair plugs sprouting like fertilized weeds, his Occupy Mars shirt now just a tattered rag of failed irony. For the $44 billion he would buy this invisible universe of anger and vitriol with, he could have cleaned up all the plastic in the world’s oceans, or restored the lost jungles destroyed by agriculture, or revamped advanced nuclear energy, or given nearly every person on the planet a sheet of high-powered blotter acid and brought world peace. Instead, he will throw his great wealth at the illusory light behind the screen, to be Oz himself behind the huge curtains. But the real problem is that if he does buy it, he will finally be realized for who he is.
Part of the lore of genius is to be draped in shrouds of mystery. You tell yourself that someone is too smart to participate with our blubbering quarrels, our intense superficiality. They’re too busy being smart, thinking up equations of whatever, implementing innovative ways to save the world from our flamboyant idiocy. But when Musk involves himself in the normal exchanges on Twitter, he overexposes himself to the masses, participating in the garishness with the rest of us, pretending to know things, flexing proudly in the mirror like an eight-year-old pretending to be a bodybuilder. His tweets resemble more the mind of a Buzzfeed listicle writer, as he asks his one hundred million followers what their favorites cheeses are, or his continued support of Dogecoin, or his endless supply of 69 and 4/20 jokes. “I put the art in fart” he tweets. “Jack in the Box should do double duty as a sperm donor clinic.” “69 days after 4/20 again haha.” “Pronouns suck.” What happened? Many still consider this man the one guy who could save our species from self-imposed doom. Is he really just another shitposter who got lucky with PayPal and some enormous government grants?
In our more emotionally vulnerable moments, we sometimes remind ourselves that even the richest people aren’t happy. We tell ourselves it’s okay that we’re so depressed, so down and out, so insufferably hopeless, because the rich are probably just as miserable. Only fetishizing bigger houses and faster cars, it sometimes feels that they don’t do anything all that remarkable with their money. But more importantly, as evidenced by Musk’s ephebic scribe of fatuous witticisms, we’re reminded that the richest person in the world might actually be an eight-year-old flexing in the mirror.
If he does buy Twitter, Musk will stare out at the world from inside the clattering machine of his corner of the Internet. From the tableau of public comments he’s made on technological plutocracy: things like AI is our greatest threat to humanity, we’re part of a simulation, we need to implant the Internet inside our own skulls, we realize how sick and nihilistic he really is. He wants to own the scroll of infinity, and see if something intelligible comes out. Twitter is much like the infinite monkey theorem, which states that a monkey randomly hammering the keys of a typewriter for an infinite period of time will eventually write every great work of literature. Under the deceptive concept of infinity, of course a monkey will write all of Shakespeare or Milton or Melville. But the chances are so incredibly rare that for the sake of good sense they are completely impossible. Even writing the word “banana” by randomly hitting the keys is less than one in fifteen billion. Twitter’s endless diatribe of hot takes is so inane and miserably idiotic, that for the sake of good sense, something intelligible is impossible.
People love to project how awful the Internet is for children, putting limits on their screen time, putting the safety filters on Youtube so it will only show them the most annoying stars that they can then mimic to their parents. All the while the adults drive at eighty miles an hour while staring hypnotically into the phone like the glowing orb of a scrying stone, texting their girlfriends furiously, watching an Instagram reel of a cute raccoon stacking wooden blocks like they were toys, tweeting angrily to politicians. The Internet is slowly rotting us into digitized beings, into actual robots ourselves.
One of Elon Musk’s stated goals of taking over Twitter is to remove the many bot accounts from the social networking app. It’s been estimated that somewhere in the range of a quarter of all Twitter accounts may be just robot code programmed to spew out inflammatory disinformation. If you think Twitter will be better without the bots, then you presuppose humans will do a better job, hammering out their opinions and stale one-liners with their greasy thumbs on every issue that comes into vogue for the day. Let’s hear three hundred million people’s opinions at the same time about how we could have pulled out of Afghanistan better; or what Will Smith’s slap meant to the black community; or what AOC’s dress meant by being at the Met Gala. It assumes humans will perform better than the robots, something he has already proven is wrong: his self-driving cars are involved in far less accidents than the cars driven by humans. The robots are already far better than us in every conceivable task. We are more incapable of ourselves than the dictation of computer code.
The only redeeming quality of Twitter is the entertainment. Its unique rapturous gore of debate is hilarious, and is meant to be inefficacious and fruitless. Its natural state is as a grotesque carnival of discourse. It serves best to entertain, to watch the seriousness at which people take the opinions of others they’ll never really interact with. It’s the political pedestal of the masses, as they scream into the starless void, listening for an echo amidst the eternity of the same. The majority of politics is meant as an avocation to fill the internal skies of your own profane boredom, to pretend to believe in something, to be enraged again and again until your last breaths are spent gasping at what the Republican Congressman tweeted this time. You think about these people sometimes: those who remain slouched in a rocking chair on their front porch for decades, with a shotgun mounted on wall above them, complaining about how the world is changing too fast in the wrong direction. And you wonder if when the rocking slows for good, if they wonder what it was all for, grumbling about everything beyond the horizons, the distant thunderclaps glowing with a violent turquoise.
But Elon Musk admittedly believes in the virtual world more than the real one. His immortality is engraved in the computer code of ones and zeros. So, for him, buying Twitter and taking it private isn’t a matter of how he could better spend his money—it’s about believing in the Internet more than the pristinely flawed materiality of this one. If he does buy it, he’ll be one step closer to realizing his true goal: of becoming computer code himself. He’s said before that he wants to die on Mars, but his actions resemble something even more inhuman. He wants to be the emperor-in-exile, conducting great fortunes of absurdity from behind his digitized gates, like Mickey Mouse composing gorgeous spectacles in Fantasia.
If you tried to explain the Internet—and Twitter for that matter—to someone a couple hundred years ago—say, Walt Whitman, or James Joyce, or an original cowboy, or a Native American—they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. You would try to explain that it originated from the development of packet switching that was commissioned by the Department of Defense in the 1960’s, and now it’s the global system of interconnected computer networks, and it’s grown into the main user face that we communicate and experience the world from, whether it’s showing our relatives our newborns over Zoom, or watching pornography, or sharing photos of our salad we had for lunch, or sending vitriolic sentences to politicians. If we said all this to an old cowboy, they would only stare at us with confused fury, and hopefully carry on their way.
This is to say that you know something is wrong with the Internet’s tyranny over your own life. When your grandmother talks excitedly about a TikTok video she saw or an Instagram reel, you quietly squirm in revulsion. Not because old people aren’t cool enough to be sifting through these corners of the Internet, but because you know it’s from a demon-haunted world.
If you’re plugged into the Internet, you never really leave it. You may set your phone down for a few minutes, but you’ll still be a somnambulant prisoner, floating through the automated verses of instinct and habit until you can step back in. You’re in it when you’re taking a shit, when driving a car, when making love, when wandering through a huge old-growth forest of hanging lichens and moss and wild mushrooms, you can’t help yourself from taking photos and editing them for the others in your social arena to see and applaud you over. You’re never only in the forest—this other dimension that we made up is tugging you, pleading you to step back in, to show it what you’ve been spending the last few minutes doing. Twitter is the mutinous calligrapher of all our collective thoughts paraphrased down to one or two lines at a time.
Elon Musk has commented before that most of us are already cyborgs to some degree—we’re just very rudimentary forms, hacking away our thoughts with our thumbs. And although while we’re never only in the forest, we’re also never only on Twitter, combing through the unintelligible infinity of various plagiarized statements. Musk wants to be entirely inside, not tickling his toes at the shores like the rest of us, but totally submerged. We are only partially cybernetic beings, and his obsession with owning Twitter comes from his desire for us to be there fully. He wants to be inside the loamy digitized womb of the Internet, an enraged king hammering at his castle. He will go mad amongst the roaring complexity of servers and thickets of circuitry. He will be alone, hopefully, screaming his signature fart jokes into the infinite void.