So that was Rep. Anthony Weiner’s trouser weasel (D-N.Y.) I spent last Tuesday staring at. He admitted as much to the world in a lugubrious news conference on Monday, apologizing and regretting with wild abandon.
As usual, the simplest explanation turned out to be the correct one. Forget complex hacks. This was just a slip of the message address — not a direct message, but a generally visible @ note, dispatching the infamous crotch shot to the entire online world.
I am not apologizing for Weiner. He did more than enough of that on his own. But it’s fair to note that New Idiocy is much easier and more mortifying than Old Idiocy. Before, sex scandals required leaving your chair. Now? Please. All you have to do is surround yourself with cats and caption a photo unwisely, and a few weeks later all heck breaks loose.
Weiner was right. He wasn’t under the influence of drugs. He wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. I wouldn’t even say that he was drunk with power, because someone with fewer than 75,000 Twitter followers doesn’t have enough power to get more than slightly tipsy.
But Twitter makes us stupider than usual.
Nothing I have seen in my brief existence has contradicted my fundamental belief that all people will do the dumbest thing possible with any technology that is handed to them. Visit any emergency room where Ray has gotten his tongue trapped in the backhoe, and tell me that I am wrong. And it happened to our ancestors, too. Back in the day, did we use electricity to power useful devices? No. We used it to create magic balls of static that made people’s hair stand on end. The wheel? Fire? First we used those to set Grok on fire and push him down a hill.
So given the ability to tweet remarkable and inspiring nuggets of wisdom or images of the contents of our pants, we leap at the latter. Restraint? We know what it means but not how to exercise it.
Twitter magnifies all our most asinine urges by eliminating the possibility for any sort of subtlety. In 140 characters, you can’t accomplish anything particularly wonderful. Sure, people have been rescued, money has been raised, the word has been spread in repressive regimes.
But by and large, Twitter is reserved for people to act like bigger idiots than they would otherwise. It is easy to be racist or sexist or generally asinine in 140 characters. It is impossible to be sublime. And misspellings? That’s the only thing that ever rises into the Trending Terms. Twitter has an inexhaustible appetite for two things: one-liners and stupid platitudes about what women really want and Appreciating The Time You Have.
You can’t be subtle. Well, maybe you can, but in that case the only follower you will attract will be a spambot because you accidentally mentioned a brand of detergent by name.
And this idiot-enabling technology mixes strangely with traditional institutions like marriage and Congress.
“Did I violate the constitution by lying about a Twitter that I sent?”Weiner rhetorically asked at one point during his extended Apologia Pro Weinergate Meo. Definitely not, because Twitter is not mentioned in the Constitution, except in some lines about witchcraft that didn’t make it out of committee. If the Founding Fathers had foreseen Twitter, they would have been a lot more explicit about a lot of things.
Watching Weiner, it was hard not to wince sympathetically. After all, “I’ve placed personal information unwisely on the Internet” is another way of stating “I am a human being in the 21st century.” But the problem with the Internet is that it basically eliminates the Cover-Up, once a standard feature of political scandals. Screenshots? Sorry, you’re stuck. Screenshots that make you look like an unnerving gnome? Better call the news conference now.
But this was the most embarrassing speech I’ve seen in years.
There’s admitting that you’re Client No. 9, and there’s admitting that yes, that mysterious grey-boxer-clad lump that’s been circulating across the Interwebs does belong to you, and probably also the pictures of you posing suggestively with cats. “This was me doing a dumb thing and doing it repeatedly and then lying about it.” The mortifying quotes came thick and fast. “All I know about them is what they publish about themselves on social media,” Weiner said of his nubile interlocutors. That’s the beginning of every episode of “Dateline: To Catch A Predator” known to man.
In fact, this is literally the public speaking nightmare that I used to have in middle school, minus the heckler penguins.
“There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror,” said W. Somerset Maugham. That’s certainly true.
And that’s the trouble with Twitter.