I have been on Twitter on and off for roughly ten years now. In that time the content of the app has changed immensely even though the platform itself has changed very little. I can remember accounts from my early days on Twitter that aimed to be inspirational—dropping 140-character nuggets of wisdom for a romanticized young person’s experience. I think one popular account in my high school was called @ChillTweets or something like that. There was also a big audience for accounts run by people who allegedly tweeted direct quotes of things they heard at their very specific or strange jobs. These types of accounts don’t really exist anymore (in my feed at least)—“friday night football games>>>>>>>” Twitter has probably migrated to Instagram and “they said it” accounts feel like a long-expired novelty.
There has also been a sea-change in the type of comedy that works on Twitter. The account @SeinfeldToday used to have a big following with a very tight, very definable premise: create situations for the characters of Seinfeld that capture the mundane and observable aspects of life in the 21st century the way the show did in the 1990s. An alternative account called @Seinfeld2000 soon followed. @Seinfeld2000 is an absurdist fever dream that threads seemingly every aspect of contemporary life through the needle of alternative versions of Seinfeld characters and Jerry Seinfeld’s real-world self, wrapping the idea of a parody account with impenetrable layers of irony and nihilism. @SeinfeldToday stopped tweeting in 2015, but @Seinfeld2000 endures. Jerry, Eliane, George and Kramer used to get lost in Best Buy while looking for the new iPhone 4S, but now jery, elan, gerg and kram fight the rona with Bee Movie.
Many more accounts function with a similar consistency on a loose concept. There’s an activist bird that tweets for birds’ rights in the most delightful, internet-folksy syntax. There are numerous accounts dedicated to tweeting out-of-context screenshots from TV shows or video games. And my personal favorite: an account that simply tweets the merchandise used to promote past blockbuster movies.
All of these accounts looks stupid or silly on the face, and that’s because they are. But they are also clever, creative, ingenious, and important. Pictures of movie merch create a historical archive that lays plain the absurdity and irresistibility of large-scale marketing and celebrity. An out-of-context account can create a wholly different understandable message given the new context it exists in with nothing more than an image and subtitle. Twitter profiles like this suggest a more media-literate audience who are able to understand and read meaning out of subtle shifts in language, both written and visual, that don’t separate the political, comedic, sentimental, or sarcastic from one another.
This trajectory was inevitable for a platform that allows a person to scroll through blips of virtually every worldview imaginable in a matter of minutes. It’s hard to imagine a platform like that maintaining any kind of neat and tidy language or culture. Eventually everything was going to become everything else.
The world of Twitter may not seek to inspire us or create situational comedy anymore, but it’s still a place occupied by people—less definable, but no less real.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.