Online has changed dramatically over the last decade. Web 1.0 became Web 2.0; we traded hyperlinks for social interconnectedness, and the world became LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook friends. Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass founded Twitter in 2006, which, over that same timespan, transformed from a place to drop idle, mundane thoughts — “just setting up my twttr,” Dorsey wrote as the first ever message sent on his new service — to a place where America’s current president defines the country’s foreign and domestic policies.
For most of that time, @Dril has been there. A little over two years after Dorsey’s first tweet, Weird Twitter godfather Dril sent his: “no.” And it’s been off to the races ever since. Last month, Dril published his first book, titled Dril Official “Mr. Ten Years” Anniversary Collection; it’s a 420-page (nice) collection of his best tweets of the last decade. For anyone who isn’t @Dril — or for anyone who hasn’t posted online at all in the last ten years — it might seem incomprehensible and more than a little narcissistic to publish a book of tweets. But Dril isn’t just anyone: his posts have largely come to define the vernacular and culture of both the internet at large and Twitter in particular. He’s the Wise Fool of online.
But he didn’t start like that. Everyone comes from somewhere, and Dril is no exception. His posting career began on the influential and heavily moderated forum Something Awful, which was founded in 1999 by Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka and the motto of which has been “the internet makes you stupid” from the beginning. On the site’s FYAD board (that’s “fuck you and die”), years of inside jokes and internet detritus accumulated, spreading to the wider internet as the subforum began to die and the posters dispersed to other sites.
Twitter became a new home for many of them, where they coalesced into a loose group known best as Weird Twitter. “There’s a lot of funny people who orbited around Something Awful,” David Thorpe, a former Something Awful admin, told Motherboard last year. “Some of them were writers on the front page, some of them emerged from the forum community and were hilarious there and continued to be hilarious elsewhere. A lot of people follow @dril on Twitter, and he was just a guy who was posting funny stuff on there, he wasn’t a front page writer.”
The humor is drenched and deep-fried in irony, mocking institutions and social conventions with a unique rigor; he never punches down, somehow, and his targets are all worthy of satire.
Despite literally being a book of tweets, Mr. Ten Years chronicles Dril’s rise from a funny writer to a writer who’s defined the way people write and think about internet culture. Which is why the copyright section says “This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced, used, or looked upon by human eyes under any circumstance whatsoever, lest you be crushed like a rat by the full fury of God our lord,” and why the book is dedicated “To every One Who Has Ever Died.” Dril does understand his impact on the culture, however, as is evident from the preface to Mr. Ten Years. “SPECIAL MESSAGE… TO THE FANS, THE SUPPORTERS, ‘AND YES, EVEN THE TROLLS…’” Dril begins:
to whon it may concern…….If you have taken the time and effort to seek out this book, then it is safe to assume that the worst has happened, and that the servers which previously hosted all of my internationally beloved posts have been Permanently Decommissioned by FEMA due to some Jade Helm 15 bull shit, forcing society to scrape together a meager existence within a miserable, Offline Hell.
But fear not bitch, Ive got you covered. me and the boys have slapped together over 400 pages chock-full of these aforementioned posts, after carefully weeding ou t the ones that arent compatible with this particular format, as well as the ones that suck absolute Dick. [sic. Actually, given Dril’s idiosyncratic approach to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, consider everything else that’s quoted sic, too.]
Mr. Ten Years, he continues, is designed to ensure that Dril’s content “permeates the hearts and minds of post-collapse generations, in order to prevent the whole of humanity from reverting to the way of the cave man.”
Dril has always taken the thousand-foot view. Mr. Ten Years does the same, as it’s an archive of ephemera. In his idiosyncratic, cracked way, Dril’s been chronicling (and starting) the trends and vernacular of life online. When they go viral, his canonical tweets redefine words and joke formats online: If you know what a corncob is, why candles can bankrupt a family, or why the celebs always seem to be at it again, you’ve been touched by Dril’s humor.
The book is ordered alphabetically by section — Diaper, Dick, DigimonOtis, Dining, and Disease & Medicine, for example, is a particularly fruitful stretch — and each section corresponds to a theme in Dril’s tweets. They’re also about the same length: Three or so pages of tweets, with an original piece of artwork marking each section break. None of the posts have dates attached to them, which makes reading feel uncannily like scrolling through your Twitter timeline: Dril lives in a perpetual present. Reading too much at once can give you the same kind of post fatigue as if you’d been scrolling for too long.
And as a semi-fictional character who lives in his own, correspondingly fictional world, it doesn’t seem like Dril inhabits the same universe as ours. His world is teeming with incompetent people who perform normalcy for themselves and brands, which have ultimate authority and are Dril’s true masters; Dril’s loyalty is to his posts, and not to his followers, to whom he’s both beholden and who also plague his life endlessly.
Despite Drilworld’s strangeness, though, it’s still a true vision of the world we live in. The section on brands, for example, is really insightful on brand and influencer desperation. “everyrtfhing I say and do is owned hereforth by the fine individuals of the Cash For Moms Online corporation. I beLieve in cash for moms. ..” Dril tweeted. And then: “i changed my mind. Fuck cash for moms online. fuck it all. its nonsense that moms are given allthis good cash while I make $0.003 per tweet,” he wrote. And doesn’t that perfectly exemplify the relationship between influencers and the brands they’re paid to promote?
In the section titled Dumb Asses, Dril explores the crossroads of irony and internet-encouraged nihilism, which lead to what’s commonly called irony poisoning — the phenomenon that takes root when you’ve spent too much time in the irony-laden swamp of internet culture, where everything is drenched in it and therefore nothing can be real or earnest, which curdles into a terminal kind of cynicism. “Imagine how fucked uop it would be to have a brain and be able to form thoughts,” Dril writes. And further along in the section: “i feel, as I, over time, become even more of a Dumb Ass, i am able to consume web-based content and Media at increasingly Blistering speeds,” which is as good an example of it as any. Irony poisoning is real, and comes as a consequence of the kind of Shklovskyan defamiliarization — presenting everyday things in an unfamiliar way — that the internet is so good at.
The whole book is a meta-demonstration of the real guy behind Dril and his relationship to posting, which is further fleshed out in the section of Mr. Ten Years about Twitter. (Dril was doxxed last year — his name is Paul Dochney — but the internet more or less collectively decided to preserve his anonymity.) “my favorite feature of this site is absolutely no consequences for my opinions sucking ffucking ass and me being 100% wrong about everything,” he wrote last August. Three years before that, Dril summarized his feelings about posting: “i wear the crown of thorns before every time i click submit . . .” Heavy is the head.
A crown, however, implies responsibility, which Dril does appear to take somewhat seriously. His vision of luxury is as horrifying as the real thing — “need to wash gamefuel stains out of a very expensive kimono,” he writes, which has exactly the same energy as, say, the seeming impossibility of finding a good crew to wash your yacht — and his view of the military is similarly clear: “a cool prank is to convince someone to join the Armed Forces and watch them get spooked by guns & missiles in exchange for hollow gratitude.” Is that so different from when the US Army failed to meet its recruiting goal and blamed the cause on “a strong economy”? The unspoken implication, of course, is that a volunteer military force requires young people to be poor.
Dril understands the warped landscape that capitalism and its resultant inequality has produced in this country, and his voice is uniquely, unmistakably American. Which is why the Dril character is a parody of a typical citizen: bloated on fast food and jingoism, lacking any trace of self-awareness or shame. In its specificity — and the ironic detachment of its voice — he becomes universal. Dril is a mirror. Do you like what you see?