This article was featured in A Story You Need to Read Today, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a single must-read The AtlanticMonday through Friday. Sign up here.
Although everyone complains about Twitter, no one can deny that it has brought some extraordinary phrases into our lives, things that we cannot imagine having read anywhere else or at any other time in history.
Topping any list of the most valuable sentence snippets posted there, the now-defunct @Horse_ebooks account would several voices. Twitter users keep recycling weird classics like “(using fingers to point at triangle shape) SMELL SMELL SMELL GOOD NEW NEW NEW slice drink MATCH SPARKLER (thrown in air) STARS STARS STARS.” But @Horse_ebooks’ best-known tweet, posted 10 years ago today, was astounding in its clarity and relevance. It described both the internet and our entire human world. “Everything happens so much,” @Horse_ebooks tweeted on June 28, 2012.
The tweet was an instant hit, generating thousands of retweets and spread throughout the site like a glued prayer. His fame has grown ever since. Over the past 10 years, “Everything Happens So Much” has been transformed into a shrine and place of pilgrimage for those who spend their lives in front of a computer. When the news is not just bad but overwhelming, people search for “Everything Happens So Much” and reply or repost it to their feeds, often with a footnote like “now more than ever” or “the eternal state of mind.” These messages acknowledge what seems like an ancient wisdom: The absolute best we can say about this moment in time is that everything is happening, as it always has and always will be, so much.
The reposts of the tweet provide, in combination, a cryptic catalog of the most dizzying events in recent history. A retweet on January 30, 2017 it probably had something to do with President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and the subsequent protests at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. One from September 25, 2019, seems related to the announcement of the first Trump impeachment inquiry. The answers and references to “Everything happens so much” in March 2020 marked the beginning of the pandemic, while a February 24, 2022the response certainly commemorates that of Russia invasion of Ukraine.
When the sacred tweet first appeared, it was understood that it was the product of an algorithm. The account, @horse_ebooks, started out as a spambot, pulling text from an e-commerce site and posting it as marketing. It developed a sequel because it was misspelled and because its random sentences sometimes sound like the mystical mutterings of a sleeping fortune teller. But then in September 2013, just 15 months after “It all happens so much,” @Horse_ebooks fans learned the truth: The “bot” had, in fact, been dead for years. In 2011, the account was taken over and turned into a performance art project run by Jacob Bakkila and his friend Thomas Bender. Bakkila had bought the account from the e-commerce spammer and started tweeting snippets of found but carefully selected text from all over the internet, including educational e-books and scans of public records. Bakkila said The New Yorkeris Susan Orleans who couldn’t remember exactly where his most famous tweet came from, but thought the original context might have been: “Everything happens so much faster when you’re retired.” By cutting that sentence in half, Orlean noted, Bakkila had made it koan-like. “I was trying to wring the wisdom out of these piles of wisdomless information,” she agreed.
For many fans, the revelation ruined Everything. “We thought we were watching the digital work muttering gleefully about us, its anxious masters,” my colleague Robinson Meyer he wrote at the time. “We thought we were forcing a schedule, one thing that doesn’t need to be forcing, when in reality we were falling for a plan.” The fact of this disappointment belies a funny optimism, in the early 2010s, about the power and promise of passing human intelligence through a machine to distill or expand it. By mid-decade, we had figured out what truly it happens when computers are programmed to use wells of human-generated content: they run out spewing hate speechor collection of intrusive amounts of dataor producing racially biased results.
But for a while, @Horse_ebooks seemed to be doing just the opposite. He was sifting through our mess of online chatter and transmuting it into aperçus that could be beautiful and eerily true. “Unfortunately, as you probably already know, folks”, en She said in July 2012. “We all agree, no one looks cool,” it tweeted five months later. And then: “Avoid situations.” In the end, the “algorithm” turned out to be just a boy, whose identity was revealed in coordination with a performance on the same day in a Manhattan gallery.
We seem to have gotten over the insult. Over time, @Horse_ebooks has regained its a status mysterious source of wisdom and art, and “Everything happens so much” has become a mantra. Twitter users called it the “general tweet of the decade” And “the text that defines our age.” It was used as the title for essays, songsat least one novel, it’s a orchestral arrangement. Recently, I emailed Bakkila to ask how he feels about this legacy. “Every time someone uses a Horse_ebooks tweet from 2012 to reply to the Everything which, despite our efforts, continues to do so it happens so much, they’re adding another sedan to the endlessly recontextualized pileup,” he replied. “It’s as good as any other way I’ve seen of responding to the shocking future we live in.”
Oddly enough, our shocking future has come to produce a moment of renewed awe at the mystery of the machines and their connection to humanity. When a writer tried revive his dead girlfriend with an AI text generator, some have found it haunting it’s beautiful. When a Google engineer convinced himself that a corporate chatbot had become sentient – a conclusion he arrived at “as a priest, not a scientist”, as The Washington Postreported Nitasha Tiku of – it was like that fascinating, also. Open AI GPT-3 and the DALL-E 2 programs, which produce realistic text and images, enchanted not only nerds, but everyone; the latter was used to create a cover for the current number of Cosmopolitan, showing a woman in a skintight space suit marching towards the viewer. An OpenAI employee, quoted in the magazine, described that photo with stars in her eyes: “That badass female astronaut is how I feel right now: Bolding into a future I’m excited to be a part of.”
That sentence was published during the eight-week span between the reveal that Roe versus Wade would be overturned and last week’s official statement that it was. The only response I could glean from reading it was to use the public version of DALL-E, now called Craiyon, to generate nine slightly different images of Carrie Bradshaw jumping off a cliff. Right now, our AI toys aren’t doing a great job of reflecting that at all. They’re just scribbling nonsense.
If @Horse_ebooks shared some real human wisdom, maybe it’s because it had a real human author. “Everything Happens So Much” captures how horror recurs even as it always feels final. When the roe deer the decision came, i got knocked out, even though we knew it was going to happen and even though it had happened before, and i got knocked out that time too. The tweet can always be said to describe “this week”; it always makes sense to be”I really feel it today”; and it is consistently the case that”it has never been more true than now.”