by Matthew J.X. Malady
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer Patrick Mortensen tells us more about what it feels like to have some joke thing you put on Twitter go viral and then spend the next few weeks regretting it.
— Patrick M (@MrBikferd) April 25, 2014
Patrick! So what happened here?
A few Fridays ago, when I should have been focusing on something else, I tweeted a cobbled together fake text exchange that riffed on the idea of Young People messing with the phone settings of Old People (I am an old person, so I was trying to face my fears), specifically: adding wacky keyboard shortcuts.
This is a thing young people do, so watch out. (There is the girl who Internet-famously shortcutted “laundry” with “acid” on her mom’s phone; this is mostly what I was thinking of when I did this — how it was a cheap laugh and probably not even real, because I care about being real on the Internet? Which was why I was being fake on the Internet? I’m not sure anymore.) I chose Ulysses as the replacement text because it’s sort of a go-to “thing that’s long” but also has a fairly well known opening sentence and a pretty famous ending. But mostly the subtext of a lot of the tweets I like is: “Wouldn’t it be awful if someone said this?” and that’s really all I was going for.
As of this morning, my Ulysses tweet has been retweeted 7,000 times and has around 9,800 favorites. Also, some person posted (curated?) a screenshot of the tweet on Tumblr, and that has 54,000 notes. People really love it when moms are bad at technology, it turns out.
That seems like a best-case-scenario result for a joke tweet that you put some time into creating and producing, no? I mean, isn’t a massive response kind of what you were hoping for when you sat down and did this? What did you expect?
I had assumed people would understand that it was a joke, or, if not, at least see right away that it looked photoshopped based on some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few photoshopped things in their time. E.g., I didn’t bother to change the battery life from one screen to the next, although I did change the time by four hours. I imagined part of the joke being that you couldn’t even add a text shortcut that led to a result this long; it turns out you can, which kind of muddies the joke a bit.)
But, with regard to navigating the distance between the text versus subtext and/or recognizing the disingenuousness of either: nope.
The ersatz momfail wasn’t picked up by “the news,” but it was picked up by a few “news aggregators.” An Irish site had the headline: “Prankster Confuses his Mam,” which is a good headline. Put that on my tombstone I guess.
And also put that I felt gross about it: I guess jokes about jokes aren’t as transparently obvious once they appear divorced from their original context? It turns out? #LOL #Barthesfail. I for sure lost track of what my joke was even supposed to be somewhere over the first weekend, around the time I got an alert that my username was trending in the UK.
Lesson learned (if any)?
I don’t think it’s funny or interesting to try to convince people a fake thing is real, so as a preponderance of RTers and people saying “epic” to me overtook my mentions, I was a little bit at sea. For the first few weeks, I would look at my phone and think about the old times, when our love was new and it understood when to shut up with the Twitter notifications. I also am aware that there literally could not be anything less important than my fretting over a thing that will not even be a thing if I just wait a few more days. And, in fact, it’s mostly died down at this point: one or two notifications a day; my phone now mostly seems like a tired SNL character with a past-its-prime catchphrase. Just personally, though, a dark moment came when Michael McKean, who with at least one aspect of his career spent an extended period of time not breaking character, retweeted it, causing me to wonder not for the first time which circle of irony we had reached.
So, anyone who happened to see this and thought this was real: super sorry, this must feel like Horse eBooks all over again. But also, like, don’t prank your mom? Or encourage the prankings of other moms. Even if your mom is a bitter old dean at a college in a movie from the eighties. She’s still your mom.
There was a guy who replied to me saying he couldn’t figure out what was more pathetic: that I invested the energy into tricking my mother, or that my mother still did my laundry, and at first I was like “hahaha ok dick,” but then it occurred to me: This guy’s on the side of the moms! I love moms (I am married to one). I hope that guy did a screenshot of his reply and then emailed it to his mom for Mother’s Day, unless his mom is bad at technology like she probably totally is.
Just one more thing.
Here are my thoughts from a few weeks’ worth of Twitter making my stomach hurt:
(1) Being mean to people is gross.
(2) I have some thoughts about making the notification settings in the Twitter app more granular
(3) It became non-consensual by the end
(4) Let’s all sign up our mothers to do Codeacademy or something so they stop falling for pranks, even imaginary ones. I mean it, this is not a “joke,” let’s help the moms, I mean it not joking, I mean really like mad I mean it I mean it I mean It.
Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.