Statistically speaking by the time you’re reading this I’ll finally be back on Twitter, an app that’s probably ruined me as a person in ways that I’m yet to fully accept. Nearly half of my readership arrives from Twitter and as a result I’m scarily reliant on the website to ensure that everyone around me sits through my weekly Eamon Ryan diatribes – every time I finally make the realization that I need to cut back on the time I waste on Twitter I cynically shrug said realization off by pretending that constantly posting is somehow good for my writing, coming off as a major careerist in the process. This overreliance is probably best exemplified through the content of this post – I had originally planned on writing yet another piece on Irish politics (fun!) but the realization that the two people who would somehow find that piece funny were significantly less likely to stumble upon it essentially killed any motivation I had, leading to this weird meta-commentary on an objectively stupid microblogging website that I should have quit ages ago. I’ve flirted with completely vanishing off the face of the internet a fair few times, somehow pretending that I have the self-control to actually do something productive with my life every three months or so. These attempts always end in some embarrassing form of failure – I remember completely relapsing on social media during a particularly slow day at work a few years back and scrolling through everything Felix Biederman posted that month like it was a particularly depressing morning newspaper. I felt like an utter arse for the rest of that shift, mainly just as that experience made me realise how dumb my relationship with the internet was. I think that was the moment that I realized I was wired in for life, even if I tried to pretend otherwise for ages. But for now, I’m temporarily free from the endless discourse that consumes my life, or I would be if I actually chose to write about music tonight. Has this led to me having any original or interesting thoughts about our collective relationship with the net? Not really.
If I was the son of a KBC Bank executive this would probably be the point where I’d launch off into a diatribe about “woke mobs” or “cancel culture” but I was born a fair few income brackets too low to be let write an op-ed (let alone a godawful one). Lately, it seems as if our ruling class has collectively chosen to minimize the fact that we are living under a pandemic and maximalize the fact that they’re really annoying, running piece after piece decrying the cruel injustice of people disliking the material they get paid to compose. We’re somehow supposed to show empathy for characters like Bari Weiss or J.K Rowling due to the fact that people vocally dislike them as hundreds of people get sick and die each day and something about that dynamic is driving me crazy. Our material conditions have been pushed to the side and our collective focus has been shifted to the cultural – with open letters and self-expulsions taking precedence over illness and mass unemployment. Leaving the New York Times to (presumably) start some blog with Ben Shapiro is the peak of oppression and transphobia is suddenly extremely subversive (despite being the opinion of the British establishment). The fact of the matter is that the all-consuming argument over cancel culture is fundamentally linked to class and privilege – the people who hound us all day about getting backlash for their articles have never had any of their pitches rejected for the last half-decade and none of their cultural output creates anything of value. The problem isn’t actually that they’re being denied a platform to spread their views, it’s that people don’t seem to play along and pretend that their op-eds on how those in Grenfell deserved to burn are deeply profound as much as they used to. Journalism has (and probably always will be) the realm of the various failsons and faildaughters of the bourgeois – these people live a fundamentally different life to ours and the constant stream of godawful takes on cancel culture reflects that.
I think this divide is best personified through the Percy French Festival, a veritable who’s who of Irish people with scarily annoying opinions. Every single failed op-ed writer in the country was due to show up at Castlecoote House, but those pesky Twitterstorms got in the way of that. Columnist Mary Kenny was set to fly in from England for the event, understandably annoying most sane people who aren’t keen on unnecessary travel during a world pandemic. After a significant amount of backlash, Kenny bailed on the event, going on a rampage on RTÉ Radio where she called our COVID restrictions “draconian” and claimed that the disease “wasn’t the Black Death”. According to Kenny the disease only killed some who were vulnerable but just manifested as a flu for others and therefore she should have been able to travel – something she said without a hint of self-awareness or guilt. We should all be prepared to risk a second wave in order to hear profound talks such as “How Free Should Speech Be?”, “The Death of Journalism” or “The Sad Demise of the Moderate Man” between rounds of tea and homemade cakes and we’re not allowed to make fun of that fact. Being made follow public health advice is viewed as a “”cancellation”” and the liberating alternative to our hellish cancel culture is hanging out with a bunch of geriatric Iona Institute goons and talking shite in a Georgian country house. These people will never actually be deplatformed, they’re just mad about not being liked by the rabid poors. If you can spend your whole career being aggressively mediocre without any form of pushback you will understandably become sensitive to criticism – it just happens that criticism boils down to being anything that isn’t prolonged applause.
While I was trying to work out as to why I got locked from my account I stumbled upon “I HATE TWITTER”, a beautifully deranged blog post in which some random Spanish lad posts his glorified meltdown while trying to email Twitter Support. The author had his account locked shortly after joining the website, something which is mildly annoying at best. He sent a relatively calm email asking for clarification and then quickly responds with another email in which he begs for a response. “Please, people are losing their jobs, me one of them. If you have a job, please DO work. I don’t care if it’s Sunday. There’s no Sundays anymore here where I live, Spain. As far as I know my great fault has been to press “like” on a lot of tweets, apparently – according to you – in a botlike manner. I can assure you I’m not a bot, wish I was, really”. This lack of a response is clearly gnawing at the lad, who then goes on a diatribe about Twitter supposedly being infiltrated by Marxists. “While waiting for a non automated answer by you – oh the irony! – I’ve begun to read Das Kapital by Karl Marx. I’m already halfway through. Man, it really is a bullshit book, but I hope this makes me eligible in a near future for that freedom of speech service you seem to deliver, specially during these hard times of isolation and social disruption. If I promise to adhere to that enthralling gulag idea of yours, do you think this support service process will go any faster? Because, hell, Lenin sported a great goatee, I’m ready to admit that!”.
The meltdown rapidly accelerates with the lad claiming that Twitter is a “Catalan Nazi” plot and that “[n]ot even the Khmer Rouge would have allowed this kind of nonsense!”. I’m half tempted to just paste in their whole meltdown but this blog post is probably way too long as-is so I’m just going to skip to the big reveal. Towards the end of this random lad’s soupification he drops a major bombshell – it’s only been five hours since his first email. Something about the idea of some Spanish nationalist sitting at home spending five hours shouting at a faceless support bot feels oddly funny, even if it’s really depressing to think about. I’m reminded here of ELIZA, a piece of software programmed as a joke by Joseph Weizenbaum. ELIZA served as a parody of Rogerian psychotherapists – the program pretended to be an advanced AI therapist but it’d simply just parrot back whatever you said with a question mark added to the end. Weizenbaum intended to use this program to show how superficial communication between man and machine was but those who he showed the program to became engrossed in it, spilling out their secrets for hours to a computer that didn’t even understand what they were on about. According to Adam Curtis, “what Eliza showed was that, in an age of individualism what made people feel secure was having themselves reflected back to them”.
Perhaps that random Spanish lad saw part of himself during those five hours he spent shouting over email about Lenin, endlessly berating some support staff that probably doesn’t even exist. Perhaps I’m doing the exact same thing right now, checking my emails scarily regularly in the hopes of logging back into a website I get zero real enjoyment out of. The computer reflects the worst aspects of my personality back at me in the form of random sixteen year olds who think they understand Bordiga (or fifty-something year olds who write for a newspaper) and I go hog wild and write really boring blog posts over and over about it. One of my worst habits is taking a topic like social media or cancel culture and making a big deal out of how it serves as a deflection from material issues while also continuing to spend a concerning amount of energy writing about said deflections. Another one of my worst habits is ending these pieces abruptly, something I’m going to do now.