A New Code
Demonstrating his marvelous new technology to Congress in 1844, Samuel Morse tapped his code into the telegraph: “What hath God wrought?” At the birth of Twitter, no one sent a similarly memorable tweet, but if there ever was a What hath God wrought? moment, it certainly was not the first tweet of Donald J. Trump:
For someone now hailed as the master of Twitter, this is not a likely start. No one would have predicted that this man—who prefers handwritten notes delivered by courier over email—would take this new technology and revolutionize the presidential campaign. And now the presidency itself.
What is the reason for his mastery? In my opinion, it’s not his skill with language, though that’s what he would say:
No, I think there’s a more elemental connection between the man and this new form of code-tapping.
His life has always been a series of tweets... press releases from the id: a trophy wife, a gold-plated penthouse, a new skyscraper, an affair with a playmate, a casino propped up by debt and image, a peep into the dressing room of Miss Teen USA.
By the Texting of My Thumbs
Before Twitter, the internet had already established that, among its amazing blessings, it was God’s gift to every species of oddball, eccentric, obsessive and outright wacko.
First, it freed them. The anonymity of the user is a shortcut around the representatives of the superego—such as parents, spouses, friends or neighbors. Like a convict unexpectedly let out of jail, the id is overwhelmed by the intensity of the liberation. Centuries of taboo evaporate.
Second, it connected them. The wackos found each other, recruited each other, reinforced each other. They normalized each other.
The technology is a triumph of reason, the product of decades of hard thought about thinking. But for all its logic boards and algorithms, for all its pure data and its reduction of human experience into ones and zeros, the internet has constructed itself out of what we love, what we hate, what we fear, and what we dream. And especially those that we do secretly. This is the id’s machine.
Twitter takes this dynamic and runs even wilder.
One reason is the very shortness of a tweet. Poets have long held that the restrictions of meter and form paradoxically free them to be more creative. But that’s not the case here. The 140-character limitation is a clear message to the superego: mind your own business. The use of characters as the basic unit, not words or syllables, is a further affront to the language region of the brain.
Twitter disproves both Allen Ginsberg and William Shakespeare: first thought is NOT best thought, and brevity is NOT the soul of wit. The first thought, even for reasonable people, is often quite insane. Precision and gracefulness may be the soul of wit, but they take work.
When people register their anger on Twitter, they are truly nasty. When the target is female, a large number of men become truly vile. It’s partly the anonymity. But many of the most despicable tweeters use their real names. It’s not just the rush of mob violence, ganging up on a defenseless victim, though that surely is a factor. Partly it’s because tweeting feels private; it feels like thinking. Partly it’s because of the quickness and off-the-cuff feeling of tapping thumbs at a tiny window. It’s often done standing up, on the move, multi-tasking: the superego is distracted; there’s no pause for reflection. This is the nature of the machine, of the interface of intellect and internet: it’s all about the id.
The power of Twitter is what it releases into the public sphere: the prehistoric reptile brain chained up by a thousand generations of human social organization. Now, much of this history has involved fierce repression—often cruel, sometimes stupid, and always changing. But as society progresses and the parameters change, what doesn’t change is the root idea that we need to control ourselves in order to coexist. We need a grown-up standing between the sudden thought and the spoken word. We need an armed grown-up between the impulse and the deed. That’s what Twitter tosses out the window: the very value of self-control.
He’s a ragebot, lustbot, greedbot, egobot—released from the twitterverse and trolling the real world, looking for something to get mad at, to grope, to possess, to adore him.
The Troll from the Machine
Then came 2016, and we didn’t have a candidate using Twitter, we had a tweeter running for president. And a natural tweeter at that. His life has always been a series of tweets, a series of press releases from the id: a trophy wife, a gold-plated penthouse, a new skyscraper, an affair with a playmate, a casino propped up by debt and image, a peep into the dressing room of Miss Teen USA.
His supporters say he “tells it like it is.” At this, his opponents cry, “WTF! Most of what he says is lies.” But it all depends on what your definition of it is. The it is not objective truth, but subjective, immediate, baseless feeling. The it is the id.
Some people credit Trump for being some sort of genius: the first to see the possibilities, the game-changer of the internet. I don’t agree. He’s just your average dirty old man, just your run-of-the-mill scumbag megalomaniac narcissist billionaire. He’s just an oddly shaped peg that’s been swaggering through the world, bumping into people, knocking things over, and he just happened to tumble into a new and oddly-shaped hole in the universe.
So here he is, an avatar, but of the reverse type: he’s an avatar from the computer, now out in un-virtual reality. He’s a ragebot, lustbot, greedbot, egobot—released from the twitterverse and trolling the real world, looking for something to get mad at, to grope, to possess, to adore him.
Most of us never thought Trump had a chance to win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. He blew past mistakes that would have sunk any candidate in the past. But things are different now.
The world is a new place. We’re all strangers here. Except for the dirty old man. Turns out, he’s been living here for years. Hell, he bought property and put up hotels!