Gather round children and let me tell you a story.
It is a story about a fridge, some noises and Twitter. A story of rapid yet fleeting ascension. About dulkuk, shik and kureureuk.
On an uneventful Saturday morning our new fridge is ushered into the kitchen by a friendly delivery guy who advises us to let it rest for thirty minutes before turning it on. He is unremarkable — celestial messengers often are — and as he drives off I sit down to flick through the instruction manual as we wait for the required time to pass. It is a non-descript manual — keep safe! don’t bend the cords! try not to get electrocuted! etc — but nestled on the very last page is a short troubleshooting section employing beautifully crafted onomatopoeic words to describe common fridge occurrences. As someone who works with words for a living, I am immediately enamoured with this. I take a picture, write a quick caption, then send it out into the Twitter-sphere. I am bad at Twitter — my modus operandi consists almost entirely of irregularly retweeting articles that make me happy or sad and the occasional haiku book review, and these average somewhere between zero and five likes. I almost don’t send it, but I am trying to be better at social media. It is 8:47am and I don’t spare it a second thought.
I go about my day and spend the afternoon visiting a friend. As we chatter away, my phone pings occasionally with notifications — brrp…brrp…brrp — and I notice that the tweet is getting a few shares and likes. As it approaches thirty likes, we joke that this is the best tweet I have ever sent and that I am going viral and will soon be changed irreversibly by fame so this is likely the last time we will see each other. At 6pm I set off on the hour’s drive home and am soon accompanied by a steady waterfall of notifications: brrp-brrp-brrp-brrp. At each red light, I glance across at the phone, watching the likes pile up. By the time I hit the highway, the phone is a mini-blue light disco, all flashing screens and frantic drum beats. My ego does a little swagger. They like me! They really like me! Finally the world realises how truly wonderful I really am! For twenty minutes I let myself imagine all the ways my life will transform now that I am an online sensation. I might not be breaking the internet but I am at least giving it a swift little kick in the shins.
At the halfway point of my drive I hit rock bottom. I’m not a clever internet wit, I just took a photo of something funny and shared it. Not the same thing at all. It is the tweet that people like, not me. I am more akin to the owner of the world’s ugliest dog or fattest python: here by dint of possession. I sulk for a bit as the phone keeps up its merriment.
By the time I arrive home it has reached a few hundred likes. I spend the rest of the evening sitting on the couch watching the numbers rise and messaging internet-savvy friends. I read through the comments, liking them and replying. People respond back, others chiming in. We joke and laugh, and for the first time I feel close to understanding what the internet is capable of when it isn’t screaming and shrieking and trolling. As the comments roll in I struggle to keep up with them. Some I don’t understand but others are expressions of pure joy. Perhaps the fridge tweet truly is the greatest thing I have ever done? I look at the fridge appreciatively and it purrs gently. No, it kureureuks gently, its refrigerant gases changing to liquid in a way I need not be alarmed about. The counter hits 1,000 likes and the fridge and I are content.
As the other side of the world begins to wake and see my tweet, I pick up my partner from a late-night train. He approaches the car, my face lit up as I peer intently at the phone. ‘They won’t stop,’ I whisper, staring at him wide-eyed as he climbs into the passenger seat. I turn off the notifications at bed time, the likes hitting 2,200.
I wake up the next morning and it has reached 13,700. As the barista makes our Sunday morning coffee I watch the count climb. My partner is not as invested as I am because he is hungry. His stomach gurgles — gugulgugull — and I am a different kind of hungry. I briefly wonder if I can monetise this tweet in some way, then let it slip from my mind as I prepare for a solo road trip across the state to spend a week at a friend’s farm working on my third novel (did I mention I write books? No? If only there was a way to monetise this tweet…)
It nears 17,000 as I sit in the carpark of a service station eating a breakfast burrito. A pile of egg falls into my lap — schplock — and the counter hit 16,900. All the things I’ve done — written two novels, developed important resources for the community sector — nothing has received this kind of traction. I think about my next tweet. I had already sent a few after the fridge tweet, but none since people actually started paying attention to me and my followers billowed. I panic. This is worse than second book syndrome. All I can think of is: hey friends, buy my books! You know — the sound of desperation. No, this is not the solution. As the number of followers grow I decide the best thing to do is to bow out. Like an elite athlete who wants to finish on a high or a politician who… no, that never happens…
To distract myself I listen to my favourite podcast, an Australian podcast where they discuss each of the Discworld books with a different guest each episode. Maybe now they’ll ask me to be on the podcast, I think. On account of the tweet. But I realise soon that one rogue tweet does not a talent make, because remember the owner of the world’s ugliest dog.
I drop in on some friends who have recently returned from adopting twin boys in their home country of Iran. Their story is incredible — immigration delays, the impacts of the US sanctions, the beauty of nurturing their suddenly doubled family. After sharing their heart-aching stories they ask for my news. I show them the tweet. It is hardly an equal sharing of news, but they are excited, and we ponder the strangeness of the internet.
Back on the road I listen to the news as my tweet grows in numbers. The world is a mess: California is burning… Melbourne mourns a beloved icon stolen by an act of violence and terror… Trump remains — covfefe. Yet there is my tweet, zooming about the world from computer to computer, smart phone to smart phone.
I stop for petrol and lunch and it has reached 23,500. There is so much joy! People say they are crying with laughter, that this is their favourite tweet of the week. I spill petrol on my bare foot and it burns a little — zzzzbbbbb — but I barely notice because I am overwhelmed now. Have given up on replying to the messages. I decide that the tweet needs to live its own life now untethered from me because it is making me anxious, like a hovering parent. Be free, tweet. Spread your wings and soar.
I arrive at my friend’s isolated property on the top of a mountain. I have come here to write, to start working on my third novel. For a week of seclusion and contemplation and focussed creativity. To free myself of the trappings of the connected life and be at one with my inner artistic muse. I gobble up their wifi password on arrival and we watch the Twitter count rise. My friend points out the irony — that having written two novels about important things like social justice and equality, this is the thing that people paid attention to. My confidence shrinks a little — wooooomph — and I think that perhaps I might hate the tweet now because it is probably the best thing I will ever do. We sit drinking tea and checking the numbers every so often. It is still happening. It hasn’t abated. It is 29,000 at bed time and 36,6000 when I wake up. 38,000 when I sit down to start working on the novel and instead find myself writing this story. 39,000 when I finish this sentence…
By the afternoon it has hit 40,000. Surely this is it now.
Postscript: I wake the next morning to find it is just shy of 42,000. At this point, numbers mean nothing anymore. It is three days old and out of my control, like a teenager with a debit card.
Post-postscript: By the fourth morning, things have slowed to 42,400. Surely this is it now. Surely…
Post-post-postscript: Three weeks later, the momentum has slowed down. Hovering just over 43,000 likes. Though every so often, in the dark hours of night or the bright light of day, my phone lets out the appreciative little ping of a tweet once more liked.