143 Characters in Search of an Exit
The existential survival of an accidental Facebook nation
By Christie MathernePosted Oct 12, 2011
On June 1, 2011, a friend of mine sent a message to 143 people on Facebook. It read:
“Yo, I’m just trying to help out a hard-working, do-it-herself musician by putting the word out there to some good people, so check out her page and like if ya like it, eh? Thank you for your time.”
The musician’s name was mysteriously absent, and I realized that 143 people were going to reply very soon. For the next four months, every time someone replied, Facebook notified me.
This is the story of the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me: an ongoing Facebook conversation involving over 100 people, most of whom had nothing in common, save for not wanting to be notified every time someone replied to the message.
At some point in the conversation, we forgot why it started, or that we all initially hated being part of it. We accepted that our creation was an accident, and we began to exist without meaning. Eighty-two of us are still participating in the conversation, four months later.
This is how we created existential limbo on Facebook.
Phase I: Confusion. The initial replies were simple enough; questions such as, “Who might that be?” and “Links, man, links.” We wanted to know why we were put in this white space, with nothing but a tease of empirical evidence. If we were going to be notified of every reply to this thread, we wanted to know what the hell he was trying to tell us in the first place. One in our numbers couldn’t take the barrage of questions:
“I don’t even care anymore,” wrote Unreal Rogers. “I resent her for all of these notifications.”
Phase II: Unity via Common Enemy. After a few hours, some began to blame our mutual friend for the incredible inconvenience. We became a mob, accused him of being drunk, and even questioned whether or not the musician existed at all.
The answer became a victim of unnecessary suspense, however – a day later, it was revealed that the musician was Zoe Boekbinder, and that our mutual friend had accidentally sent the message to a bunch of random people.
He explained and apologized, but we wouldn’t let it die. Or, we wouldn’t let us die.
Phase III: Re-evaluation. Throughout the next few days, some of us questioned how we got there. The why had been answered, and it didn’t seem nearly important enough to have brought 143 people together. Even though our friend had told us it was all an accident, we wanted it not to be. We hypothesized, creating infinite scenarios that could have landed us in the chat box.
“Actually I was kind of hoping we had all been chosen as part of a genetically-elite squad to populate the moon,” said Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
“u missed that project back in ‘78, we’re going to mars with this one,” said Jordan Davis.
“F*ck mars! We’re bringing Pluto back!” said someone who is no longer a Facebook user.
“YEAH!!! F#ck how they can say that sh#t ain’t real, it’s a rock…it floats,” replied Jordan Davis. “Pardon the language, I get worked up over Pluto.”
Several discussion topics followed, mostly authored by two or three people.
Meaninglessness: “Age is just a number, so planet is just a word.”
Attribution of meaning: “It’s the meaning behind the symbology that matters, but only if you’re over the matter.”
Universal humanity: “It is funny how uncomfortable, or maybe just confused, everyone is. This is how EVERY DAY feels to me.”
At that point, we were no longer talking about our captor, or the musician that he wanted us to know about.
Phase IV: Separation of the Individual. Amid cries of annoyance, and the occasional Facebooker asking what the hell was going on, several revealed that they were only replying because it annoyed such a large amount of people.
“i just wanted to put another 1 over ur lil message symbol thingy,” wrote Jordan Davis.
After these revelations, and without another peep from our creator, our mass conversation began to lose meaning and solidarity.
Then, Ben Kish said something that resonated with the masses:
“I think more people should post drunk! Why the f*ck not, it’s about time we stop taking FB so damn serious.”
Phase V: Existential Disintegration. Many of us agreed with Ben Kish. We took up drinking, and subsequently sent paragraphs of meaningless squabble to over a hundred random Facebook accounts.
“Back ghasty parsnips diddle the philandering monument,” wrote Paul James, “so interestingly tainted pheromones can finagle a periscope.”
The less meaningful our mass conversation became, the more the silent recipients spoke up – everyone had their own unique style of gibberish, and delighted in forcing others to read it. Eventually, the conversation created a purpose, and one purpose only: to survive.
“KEEP IT GOIN. KEEP IT GOIN. KEEP IT GOIN,” as Zach Toomey expressed.
Phys Ed saw an opportunity and began to advertise a link to his music project, stating, “since this message is still going, im going to start shameless advertising.”
Did we realize what had happened on our island?
Phase VI: Historical Analysis.
The last correspondence, dated yesterday, reads: “What does all of this mean?”
To this day, the only tie that binds us all together is that we all, at some point, wanted to escape the notifications. Yet, the 82 of us who are still subscribed to the conversation have demonstrated that we no longer want to escape. Some still don’t know the conversation’s origin, despite the fact that it exists in writing, and is available to them. Every now and then, someone gets drunk and posts a link to some music we should check out. And, of course, no one dares to speak of the irony.
Are we sticking around to see if it culminates into something worth talking about, only because we’ve wasted so much time talking about it? Or, have we stumbled upon the eternal nature of limbo?
We don’t waste time on these questions inside the white space – the “why” no longer matters. Now, all we know is that it must survive. Forever.