Coming in last at the Twitter Bowl

The Super Bowl was a perfect case study of how Twitter today is all about who's the fastest, funniest, wittiest. It's an exhausting competition, but who wants to just be a retweeter? 


Janet Kornblum

Internet Culture

Published Feb 6, 2013   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 1:54 am CDT

I’m watching the Super Bowl along with the rest of the world when something very strange happens. Everything goes silent. We break to a commercial. When we come back, they tell us: it’s a blackout.

So I do what, apparently, the rest of America (and beyond) now do when Something Big happens. I turn to Twitter. And to Facebook. Because? Well, let’s think about this for a second. Why the hell do we do this?

Because something happens. Right before your eyes.

Are you following me? Something happens that you already know happened. As in, you watched it happening. You were there (or there by proxy, by watching). You saw the Super Bowl lights go out (for example—it could just as easily be a little earthquake, or your run of the mill neighborhood riot). You know those lights went out, or you felt the earthquake; everyone knows what happened.

What I’m saying is these are not the times we turn to social media to find out about things happening in other places—political unrest in Mali, earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And I’m definitely not talking about when we see something that only we notice or experience, like an ironic piece of graffiti that we are compelled to Instagram or that dude across the restaurant who is proudly and unironically sporting a mullet (Instagram is nothing without irony).

I’m referring to when we turn to social media to find out the shit that happens that you already know happened. You know, those unbearably banal tweets we are all too familiar with, like, hey, wow, the sun rose. TWEET THAT. “Sun rose. Again. Boom! #sunrise @planetearth”

When we turn to Twitter in these moments, are we trying find out what happened? Are we trying to gain more perspectives? To have a deeper understanding of it? Are we just declaring it, to affirm our existence? The sun is here! I saw it! I am here!

Don’t be silly. We’re going for one reason and one reason only.

And you already know what that is: to be the very first one to tweet that Beyonce caused the power outage. Or to be the very first one to bestow the world with the witty repartee that the ‘49ers caused it.

Come on. Admit that you were racing against a million other tweets.

The rub, of course, is that this all now happens instantly. It’s almost impossible by definition. By the time I got there, all of 30 seconds after I watched it happen live, all the jokes had been made already. Stumped by the wealth of funny/interesting/sarcastic comments, all I could come up with were retweets. Which I then didn’t. Because frankly, I was bitter. OK?

Who wants to be just a retweeter?

I come from the generation of people who got online right at the beginning, because the Internet was going to change the world and make us all Happy Shiny People who would understand each other once and for all because the Internet brought us all close and unified all of humanity.


Instead, it’s tackle football out there. Tackle football of 140 characters or less. It’s brutal. Who can be the funniest? The cleverest? The first?

It never stops. But damn it. Don’t bother me. I’m busy trying to think of an ironic—but not self consciously ironic—tweet to promote this story.

Janet Kornblum wishes she tweeted first and tweeted often. For now, she mostly watches other people tweet clever things. Help her out by following her at @jkornblum.

Art by Fernando Alphonso III

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*First Published: Feb 6, 2013, 4:03 pm CST