My home landline telephone number is not widely known. Generally, it gets passed around very judiciously among certain members of Washington’s insider elites, accompanied by advice that calling my office is considered decidedly more preferable. Members of my immediate family have it too, however, and very occasionally, I receive a call from somebody they know.
This was the case on May Day morning, where Cerise and I had just finished enjoying a breakfast featuring a quail egg and water buffalo brie fluffy omelette with black Périgord truffles, homemade goat butter croissants and Bollinger Moroccan tangerine mimosas. We were lounging around in the living room, sipping Kona – mine with a shot of Grand Marnier cuvée 1880 – and reading. I perused a copy of Nature. Cerise leafed through Vanity Fair while petting Twinkle, my cat, who snuggled beside her, purring like a tiny Porsche at the starting line.
As usual, my sixth sense told me that something this nice wasn’t going to last all that long, and as usual, it was correct – about ten minutes in, that land line rang. Caller ID indicated a number in the 415 are code, not currently associated with a name in my local database. The reverse lookup service, however, returned a name – J. Willard Gibbs – that was vaguely familiar. Then it clicked: I had met him at my brother Rob Roy’s birthday party in 2017. Realizing that, I decided, around the third ring, that I should pick up, because Rob wouldn’t give my home landline phone number to someone, even a friend he’d invite to his birthday party, without a very good reason.
Tom: Hello? J. Willard Gibbs?
Gibbs: Tom? Tom Collins?
Tom: This is he.
Gibbs: Call me Josh.
Tom: Sure, Josh. I assume you got his number from Rob Roy?
Gibbs: Um… yes, you’re absolutely right. He said maybe you could give me some advice.
Tom: That’s what I do. Advice about what, may I ask?
Gibbs: My current… employment predicament. For years, Rob and I used to work together programming Java and Ruby applications at Whizzonator-YoYoDyne Federal Information Systems, at the Fairfax City and Reston offices. Then, in 2018, I got an offer to move here to San Francisco and work for Twitter.
Tom: And you’ve been there ever since?
Tom: And… let me guess… you’re calling because Elon Musk just bought Twitter and you’re freaking out trying to figure out what to do, and calling everyone you know to talk about what you should do, and apologizing to them for working at a business that Elon Musk owns now, and making sure they understand that you had nothing to do with that happening, and telling them how freaked out you are and how worried you are about what Elon Musk is going to do with Twitter and telling them all about how morally conflicted you are now that Elon Musk is going to control Twitter, and when you called Rob Roy and started babbling like that at him, he told you to calm down and gave you my home phone number.
Gibbs: Ah… yeah. How’d you manage to know all those things without me telling you?
Tom: It’s my business to know stuff like that without anyone telling me. If one does it for a couple of decades, it becomes second nature.
Gibbs: Sounds like Rob Roy gave me the right phone number to call, then.
Tom: Yes, I suppose he did. Is everybody at Twitter as upset as you are about this Elon Musk business?
Gibbs: Mostly. But, well, now that you mention it, there are a few folks at Twitter who don’t seem particularly concerned.
Tom: And who are they?
Gibbs: Huh… considering that now… which, of course, I hadn’t before… hmm… I’d say, they’re basically the nut cases.
Tom: Nut cases?
Gibbs: Yeah, you know, the kind of people you inevitably find at any organization involved in software development; the ones who are pretty loosely connected with reality to begin with. There are the ones that spend most of their time living in virtual worlds on the Internet, do lots of cosplay, collect Japanese anime, know every line from every Star Wars movie, dress up like Lieutenant Worf or a Cardassian Gul for Halloween, play Fortnite days at a time, take BattleBots seriously, pay five thousand dollars for an old Spider Man comic book; there’s that crowd.
Tom: And… the other crowd?
Gibbs: That would be the Libertarians – some of the geeks and a lot of Twitter management go around letting everyone know that they’re Libertarians, telling people they ought to read stuff by somebody named Ayn Rand, yakking at everyone about some weird philosophy called Objectivism, giving you the nudge-nudge-wink-wink and asking, “Who is John Galt?” By the way, do you know who John Galt is?
Tom: A two-dimensional character in a one-dimensional novel by a zero-dimensional writer. Okay. It’s understandable why the geeks who live in their own private Idaho don’t care who runs Twitter – I’d bet a five-thousand dollar comic book they wouldn’t care if Vladimir Putin ran it.
Gibbs: And the Libertarians?
Tom: Real Libertarianism implements a very demanding, rigorous, recondite and arcane ideology, fraught with ethical and moral complexities and conundrums that very few people who call themselves “Libertarians” actually comprehend or understand.
Gibbs: So the Libertarians at Twitter are just a bunch of fakes?
Tom: In all likelihood, yes. In most cases, saying they are Libertarians is just an excuse for emotionally stunted individuals with deformed, weak characters to be selfish, greedy, Machiavellian, callous toward other people’s suffering and indifferent to the consequences of their actions. It’s a favorite excuse among unscrupulous capitalists types of every gender and creed. No doubt the so-called “Libertarians” who work for Twitter are rejoicing at Elon Musk’s purchase. After all, he claims to be a “Libertarian,” just at they do.
Gibbs: So – you think Elon Musk is an emotionally stunted individual with a deformed, weak character who uses Libertarian philosophy as an excuse to be selfish, greedy, Machiavellian, callous toward other people’s suffering and indifferent to the consequences of his actions?
Tom: To Mr. Musk, I would say, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” And, reading his tweets, it’s obvious to anyone with the common sense God gave a picnic ant that he intends to encourage emotionally stunted individuals with deformed, weak characters, who already infest the platform like cockroaches in a New York City tenement, to become the dominant life-form in its cybernetic ecosystem. Whatever heights of abusive, hostile, uninformed, mean-spirted ranting have been achieved previously on Twitter, it is inevitable that, once under the control Elon Musk, they will be exceeded by orders of magnitude. Now tell me something – do you remember when you first heard of Twitter?
Gibbs: Um… yeah. It was… let’s see… ah… around Labor Day in 2006, yeah, at a bar on Martha’s Vineyard… the Ritz Cafe, yeah, that was it. We were talking about startups – you know, which ones had survived the dot-bomb era and why, which ones might be cool places to work, you know, stuff like that.
Tom: And what did you hear about it?
Gibbs: Well, to be honest, when… what was her name… it was so long ago… oh, I forget… Jane Something-or-other… it was like my third date with her and she always brought a bunch of her friends, which was a total, constant bummer. I never got anywhere with her, I think that might have been the last date or close to it… when she told me about Twitter – you know, here’s this mobile app on your phone where you can make these “micro-blog” entries of one-hundred-and-forty characters or less; and other people are supposed to “follow” you and read what you’ve written; stuff like, “I’m at the zoo now, checking out the lemurs, it says they’re primates, but the don’t look like monkeys.” And you’re supposed to “follow” them and read what they write in their “micro-blog,” and comment; which, I guess would be something like “Lemurs don’t have to look like monkeys to be primates, you blockhead,” or something like that and so on and so forth.
Tom: And what did you think of that?
Gibbs: Well, to tell the truth, I thought it was about the most stupid, asinine, half-witted, feebleminded thing a mobile phone application could do.
Tom: Me, too. That’s exactly what I thought about Twitter when I first heard about it.
Gibbs: So… did you ever change your mind after Twitter became popular and get a Twitter account?
Tom: Absolutely not.
Gibbs: You mean, you’ve never had a Twitter account?
Tom: Never. I surmise that you have, though?
Gibbs: Well, yeah, after I went to work for them. Everyone at Twitter has their own account. It just seemed like the… appropriate thing to do, I guess.
Tom: And you tweeted your tweets and had followers?
Tom: A lot of followers?
Gibbs: Oh, I don’t know – at one time, around the summer 2019, I had like, about six hundred.
Tom: And, I assume, you still have that account?
Gibbs: Yeah, of course. Like I said, I work there. It’s more or less expected you’ll have an account.
Tom: And does everybody compare how many followers they have with everybody else?
Gibbs: Yes, they do, and before you ask, I’ll tell you – I’ve got like, three hundred now; and plenty of people here have thousands and when I tell them that, they look at me like I’ve got leprosy or something. But it hasn’t affected my career or anything, and the money’s really, really good. Of course, living in San Francisco, I spend about twice as much money on housing and living expenses as I did in the DC area, but I still have considerably more bucks left over at the end of each month. And Ruby on Rails code is the same no matter where you write it.
Tom: So what are you worried about?
Gibbs: Well, for one thing, while we’re on the subject of Twitter followers, I’m worried that Elon Musk is going to look at how many followers all his employees have and fire the ones that are… below average.
Tom: What makes you think he’s going to do that, Josh?
Gibbs: I don’t know, it just seems to me like something an [expletive] like Elon Musk would do, that’s all.
Tom: I see. And what else is bugging you about the Musk takeover?
Gibbs: That he’s going to… like you said, you know, encourage even bigger [expletives] to say even more ridiculous, nasty [expletive] on Twitter, to the point where… I don’t know… to the point where I’m going to have to start lying to people about where I work so they won’t despise me, know what I mean?
Tom: Yes, unfortunately, I do.
Gibbs: I mean, uh.. that is, Tom… uh… Twitter was never meant to become what it did, was it? I mean, hardly anybody uses tweets to micro-blog their experiences on it, do they? But that really was the original idea, wasn’t it?
Tom: It was; it was a really lamebrained, cretinous, useless idea, in my opinion, but that was, in fact, the idea.
Gibbs: And you know what, Tom? Actually, that’s what I do with Twitter – I actually micro-blog my daily experiences on it. That’s all I’ve ever done with it.
Tom: Which explains why, after… how many years?
Gibbs: Three years and… um…. ten months.
Tom: It explains why, after nearly four years on the platform, you have around three hundred followers. It’s because you have always used Twitter as it was originally intended – as a silly little micro-blog application telling the world what you’re doing and what you are thinking about while living your silly little ordinary life. And if you think about that, Josh, you will realize it’s practically a miracle that even three hundred people read it.
Gibbs: Yeah, I guess you’re right – it’s like I’ve been totally wasting my time using Twitter like that.
Tom: Whereas, Twitter users who completely ignored its putative operational concept and prostituted the platform to spew lies, nonsense, gossip, rumors, conspiracy theories, xenophobia, hate, bigotry, rampant paranoia, and raving insanity, all stoked to the max by the Twitter Algorithm, jacked up their lists of followers into the stratosphere.
Gibbs: Yes, now that you mention it, I guess they did.
Tom: And all that before Elon Musk showed up.
Gibbs: I must admit, you have a point there.
Tom: So, just as those of us who had sufficient perspicacity to eschew Twitter from very moment of its misbegotten inception were wondering, how could this pathetic piece of [expletive] possibly get any worse, along comes Elon Musk, who buys it and then tells the world he’s going to use it to give us more of what he fancies to be “free speech.”
Gibbs: Well, he’s promising to publish the Twitter Algorithm as Open Source software. I guess that’s something… positive, isn’t it?
Tom: You think its a positive thing that when he publishes the Twitter Algorithm, the demented and warped miscreants who haven’t already managed to hack its code will also at last be able to find and exploit its deficiencies in order to increase the number of recommendations their vile screeds receive?
Gibbs: Gee, when you put it that way, the whole idea does sound kind of… sinister, doesn’t it?
Tom: I’ll tell you something, Josh. If you put a high-powered digital device with a graphical user interface that’s connected to a worldwide telecommunications network in the hands of a bozo, a moron, an idiot or an imbecile, that person is still a bozo, a moron, an idiot or an imbecile. And do you know what percentage of the human population are bozos, morons, idiots or imbeciles?
Gibbs: No, I’ve never really thought about that.
Tom: Well, you should, because the definition of a bozo is someone with an IQ of between 70 and 89; a moron is someone with an IQ between 50 and 69, and anyone with an IQ of less than 50 is either and idiot or an imbecile.
Gibbs: Are those all… clinical terms?
Tom: Well, as would be expected, the contemporary clinical terms for the various kinds of very stupid people are all politically-correct euphemisms. “Moron,” “idiot” and “imbecile” are the original and traditional terms used by the inventors of the IQ test; all except “bozos.” For some reason known only to the inventors of the IQ test, no clinical term for very stupid people with IQ scores between 70 and 89 was coined. It’s the only IQ percentile range that didn’t have one. But – nomenclature aside, bottom line, statistically speaking, twenty-two percent of the population have IQ’s at or below 89. That means that over one-fifth of the population are bozos, morons, idiots or imbeciles, which is to say, some sort of very stupid person. So, for the sake of our conversation, let’s just call the lot of them “dimwits.”
Gibbs: Okay. And?
Tom: And – you know what?
Tom: Damn near all of them are on Twitter.
Gibbs: You think so?
Tom: Examine what comes out of Twitter, and it’s obvious. And if the content doesn’t prove it’s obvious, consider the re-tweet – that was invented by Twitter users as the “RT,” wasn’t it?
Gibbs: Yeah, that’s true – about 2007 or 2008.
Tom: Quite an idea, huh? Copy and paste some other dim-wits’s piece of verbal garbage into your tweet and send it to your followers so they can do the same thing and it can be duplicated thousands, millions, even billions of times over. Even Jack Dorsey, the pathetically benighted fool who came up with original bird-brained, knuckle-headed concept for Twitter, thought re-tweets were a totally ridiculous, pinheaded idea. Not that he didn’t eventually fall in love with them, of course. Now tell me, honestly, is the RT, the original re-tweet invented by Twitter users, obviously the work of a bunch of total dim-wits or not?
Gibbs: Well… yes, I suppose it is.
Tom: And yet, Twitter finally caved in and told Chris Wetherell to write the code that would make the re-tweet an official Twitter feature, with a Retweet Button and all, in 2009.
Gibbs: They say Chris never forgave himself for that. He said he felt like he’d given a four-year old child a loaded weapon.
Tom: Considering the mental capacities of most Twitter users, I think Mr. Wetherell owes four-year-olds an apology.
Gibbs: All right, okay, maybe Twitter is a dim-witted idea and what’s in most tweets is dim-witted stuff, and the RT was a dim-witted idea too, and it was an even more dim-witted idea to install a Retweet Button on Twitter. Still, that doesn’t really mean that everybody with a Twitter account is an actual dim-wit, does it? What about, I don’t know… President Biden or other politicians… or celebrities? They aren’t actually dim-wits, are they? And they have Twitter accounts.
Tom: Well, at least you didn’t use Donald Trump as an example. Yes, of course celebrities have Twitter accounts, and they have huge numbers of followers, too. And the reason for that is simple: the people who worship, read about, care about and… follow... celebrities are dim-wits. For people like Kim Kardashian, it makes perfect sense to use a platform like Twitter to encourage dim-wits to contribute big slices of their pitiful disposal incomes to supporting her decadent lifestyle based on being famous for being famous. And where else is she going to find a higher concentration of dim-wits to exploit? A Twitter account for someone like her is, as it were, a no-brainer. As for people like Joe Biden, they generally have Twitter accounts because some nimrods on their staff tell them they need a Twitter account to “communicate with the masses,” which is Inside the Beltway code – and insider code everywhere else in places like that, such as the Houses of Parliament – for “sell your song-and-dance to those dim-wits out there in the provinces.” Yes, there are definitely people with Twitter accounts who aren’t dim-wits: they have Twitter accounts to influence and manipulate the vast majority of Twitter users, who are, in fact, actual dim-wits. Okay, and so, do you know what else is obvious?
Gibbs: That would be… um… let’s see here… ah.. oh, yeah, right. It’s obvious, therefore, that everyone who belongs to Twitter will now also belong to Elon Musk.
Tom: An army of dim-wits at his disposal. What more could a madman ask for?
Gibbs: Um…. let me guess… a legion of geniuses to control them for him?
Tom: Surprise, surprise, Josh – he already has that.
Gibbs: Really? Who?
Tom: Why, you and your colleagues, of course.
Gibbs: Tom, you’re scaring me.
Tom: Would it be a surprise to learn that you guys and Elon Musk are scaring plenty of other people at the moment?
Gibbs: So… maybe I should hang on at Twitter and try to prevent things from getting more…. out of hand?
Tom: Well, I know my little brother Rob Roy chooses his friends carefully, so I figure, down deep, you must be a stand-up guy despite the fact that you work for Twitter. Tell you what – email Rob Roy your resume, and if Elon Musk fires you, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation and you can use me as a reference for your next job.
Gibbs: Oh, wow, you’re one hell of stand-up guy yourself, Tom! So if Elon Musk fires me for trying to keep Twitter from becoming totally depraved, vile and wicked… or not having enough followers, or not being a Libertarian, or something like that…
Tom: Such as Twitter laying you off because it’s going bankrupt under Elon Musk’s new management…
Tom: Or because they don’t need you anymore due to the dim-wits having found another platform that appeals to their monumental stupidity even more than Twitter does.
Gibbs: Uh, yeah… whatever… but if something like that happens, and you back me up like you said, then I can come back to DC and work for the government again!
Tom: Might as well – nothing the feds do is even half as evil or dangerous as Twitter.
Gibbs: Okay, well, thanks, I feel a lot better now.
Tom: You’re welcome. Say hi to Rob Roy for me.
Gibbs: Oh, I will, count on it! ‘Bye.
“Why,” Cerise asked me in a slightly irked tone, “did you put that call on speaker?”
“I thought you might be interested to hear me have a conversation with one of Rob Roy’s friends,” I explained.
“Your brother,” she sighed, shaking her head as she returned to her magazine, “sure knows how to pick them.”
Twinkle stood up, stretched, yawned and looked at me. “Twitter sucks,” she said, then strutted out of the room with her tail in the air.