Happy Birthday, Twitter: You're Incredible and Horrendous

Twitter turns 5 years old today! What an adorable and accomplished and incredibly rich little tot. Twitter's become internet-ubiquitous in those five years. It's also become the most singularly idiotic and wonderful thing in internet history.

I don't remember when I first heard about Twitter, much in the same way that I don't remember when I first heard someone say "text" or "chat room" or "free porn." Looking back, it feels like it was there all along—which is sort of scary. It's retrospectively permanent-feeling, like the internet itself, and yet novel enough to still feel crass. I cringe when I hear a dignified news reporter soliciting tweets from his or her audience.

But why? Twitter has in recent months proven to be one of the most uniquely capable sources of news-funneling in the history of communication. With only the most rudimentary of equipment, anyone in the world can relay anything in the world—a death toll, an explosion, a cry for help, an utterance of defiance. I have CNN and a bevy of other high-budget 24/7 news networks, and yet I still look up at my Twitter feed for news on Libya, Egypt, and the rest of democratically exploding hotspots that've used Twitter itself to warrant these 140 character dispatches.

And then, there are the people talking about Kim Kardashian and how much they hate their moms and how their March Madness brackets suck and how much their commute sucks and which videogame is the worst and how terrible rain is and trying to make witty comments about Kim Kardashian and ten trillion other awful attempts at self-aggrandizement. It's a hackneyed jab at Twitter to claim it's just a million people talking about what they ate for lunch, but as I'm writing this, a search for "sandwich" yielded a cascade of results, seconds apart, pertaining to just that. "I want a sandwich," typed Bria Legania, two minutes ago.

At times it seems Twitter is useful for literally two things only: pathetic self-affirmation and regime change.

And what makes it historical is that it's stupid and splendid by virtue of its design—because Hey, you might say, Email is full of inane bullshit too. Nigerian princes! True—but spam is a misuse of the medium. Tween throngs clinging to Bieber's every noun is what Twitter was designed for. Scraps. Shards. Belches. An echo chamber—factoids and sound bites being flung around, retweeted ad infinitum for the mere sake of being heard and repeated. It's the easiest way of being acknowledged, the most effortless means of ensuring that someone notices you're alive. It feels good to be followed. It feels good to be retweeted. We're all starving for notice, and just like the Facebook friendship that stands on straw, the Twitter conversation is the semblance of interaction without any of the substance.

But we're drowning in it. Fundamentally, we don't give a shit about most of the things we read on Twitter. Maybe we have to, for work, or out of courtesy, or what have you—but Twitter spins itself into a pulsating blob of interference, to the extent that workarounds like Proxlet have sprung up to cut out the noise. Noise that we're blasting into our brains by our own volition. Noise that we want, because we want to feel part of the group. All of the groups.

The Tech Geek Elite—Does anyone know how to [insert obscure CSS thing] without it breaking! RT ANYONE ELSE'S IPAD 2 SMELL LIKE CHERRY LIP BALM?

The Media Blowhards—Check out my new piece in [insert moribund print publication]! PAYWALL PAYWALL PAYWALL J-SCHOOL? PAYWALL

The Celebrities—TY FOR ALL THE LOVE AND SUPPORT LUV U GUYS

The Idiots— #WINNING #BIWINNING #TIGERBLOOD #FUCKOHIOSTATE

The Tweens—CHRISTINA U BITCH, W/E IM SO OVER IT #fml

The Bieber Hive—Ugh, whatever, just click this. Harry Potter and Twilight fans can also be stuffed into this sordid venn diagram of hormones and poor capitalization.

And then, just when it seems stupid beyond mention, it's the first place we find news of a Fukushima reactor melting down.

Forced brevity has brought out both the absolute worst and best of online chatter. Which forces us into kind of a pickle, huh? If we don't want to give up the unparalleled access to the crises of the world—which we don't—we'll have to give equal space for the the stupid blabbering multitude. There's no compromise. Both are using Twitter as it was designed—for outbursts. Whether that outburst is from the mouth of a dictator-toppling hero or toppling-over fraternity twat is out of our control.

So, happy birthday Twitter, you twin-headed mutant. We love you and we hate you.

Illustration by Contributing Illustrator Sam Spratt. Become a fan of his Facebook Artist's Page and follow Sam on Twitter