Spend an hour today looking at the internet—go ahead, it’s still running—and you will come back dismayed. It’s eerily quiet, aside from the single, hard news item—Trump Triumphs—which rang out like a gunshot last night and shut everything and everyone else the fuck up.
There are still, of course, a lot of tweets, and they are, for the most part, profoundly unfunny. (Here is a good one.) There are takes, and they are, for the most part, bad. (Here is a good one.) There are still animals on the internet, and they are, as ever, content. (Here is a good one.) But the internet is quiet because the internet is ashamed. The alt-right grew here, in the very same forums and message boards that birthed much of popular internet culture. “I Can Has Cheezburger” and Pepe The Frog are brothers of 4chan. “The Dress” proliferated on Facebook and Twitter using the exact same mechanisms that allowed both platforms to become echo chambers of self-reinforcing misinformation.
Today is an awful triumph of memes—not just the way we commonly think of them, of Doge and Slenderman and Harambe, but in their original meaning, as proposed by the biologist Richard Dawkins. His intention was to extend Darwinian principles to the field of information theory, and to isolate the way single ideas can prove to be dominant over others. On the internet, these are often flippant, but underscoring some greater perception of reality. This is where they derive their strength. Any political idea is a meme, in its original definition, but Trumpism is a meme by both definitions. In evolutionary terms, it has proven the fittest. It is the lion in the jungle of the internet.
All of which is to say this: There is work to do. The internet should not be quiet. It is impossible, this morning, to surmise what form that work should take, but the bad takes and tweets and animals are a start. As The Paris Review says, in its game attempt at a link roundup:
The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.
At 2 in the morning, Roxane Gay wrote for The New York Times:
The most vulnerable among us will now be even more vulnerable because there are now too few checks and balances to executive power, given the Republican-controlled legislature. Where do we go from here? That is the question many of us will be trying to answer for the next while. For now, we need to breathe, stand tall and adjust to this new reality as best we can. We need—through writing, through protest, through voting in 2018 and 2020—to be the checks and balances our government lacks so that we can protect the most defenseless among us, so that we can preserve the more perfect union America has long held as the ideal. We have to fight hard, though I do not yet know what that fight looks like.
In his 2011 book The Information, the science historian James Gleick wrote a history of information theory in light of the increasing quantity and availability of it. If the printing press ushered in an era of universal readership, the internet represented the rise of an era of universal authorship. What might that mean for the way we understand and communicate? His chapter on memes concludes this, of the internet:
Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere; it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants. But they are not ghosts to us—not anymore. We humans, alone among the earth’s organic creatures, live in both worlds at once. It is as though, having long coexisted with the unseen, we have begun to develop the needed extrasensory perception. We are aware of the many species of information. We name their types sardonically, as though to reassure ourselves that we understand: urban myths and zombie lies. We keep them alive in air-conditioned server farms. But we cannot own them. When a jingle lingers in our ears, or a fad turns fashion upside down, or a hoax dominates the global chatter for months and vanishes as swiftly as it came, who is master and who is slave?
There is mourning to do. There is a reckoning to be had, for the media, for voters, for our government, and for our education system. The next four years, like the previous 25, will be incredibly ugly on the internet. But with luck, and effort, they can also be productive. There is work to be done in the biosphere and infosphere alike. The internet is not funny, but in time, it will be—it has to.
Here is a video of that guy who fell on his ass last night.
Keep hope alive.