The mosquito


Every time I convince myself that I’ve disabled all sources of automated notifications on all devices, something slips through. The latest was from Twitter, and it took this form:

@soandso retweeted one of your Retweets!

I deleted it with the same alacrity I show in swatting a mosquito about to plunge its proboscis into the capillaries of my forearm. The notification was there, and then it wasn’t there — just the after-image twinkling through the neurons of my visual cortex, hardening into memory.

Although I appreciate Twitter’s fussy approach to capitalization (if not the girl-scout eagerness of its terminal punctuation), the banality of the message strikes me as fundamental:

@soandso retweeted one of your Retweets!

One feels, in reading this, or glancing hungrily across its narrow expanse, as one does with notifications, that one has come to the bedrock of social media. And, more or less by definition, when one comes to the bedrock of social media, one also comes to the bedrock of vanity. Here at last one knows exactly where one stands.

How many times in the course of a day, I wondered, does a notification in this or some similar retweet-of-a-retweet form elbow its way — such tiny elbows! — onto the screen of a device? Is the number in the billions? It must be in the billions. If I close my eyes, I can actually feel the weight of them all. It feels soft, like a down pillow.

@soandso retweeted one of your Retweets!

“Man hands on misery to man,” Philip Larkin wrote. “It deepens like a coastal shelf.” I would be overreaching if I were to suggest that this trifling message, this near-nothingness of intraspecies communication, this wisp of flattery, is a unit of misery. But the melancholy image of the deepening coastal shelf seems apt: all those grains of sand swirling downward through the water and gently coming to rest on the sea floor.

Have I mixed my geological metaphors? So be it. The world shapes itself to our thoughts.

Our intentions? That’s a different matter.

You think you were quick enough. You think you swatted the mosquito before it pierced your skin. And yet now you see the small, pink welt rising on your forearm, and you know that in a matter of seconds you will be scratching it and that there will be pleasure in that act. For vanity is the strongest of forces.

Thank you, @soandso. Thank you for retweeting one of my Retweets. Thank you for your part in it. That you for adding a little something to the whole that is never whole.

Photo: Jo Naylor.