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On January 31, 2013, Mark Sample’s Twitter account, @samplereality, went missing under mysterious circumstances involving a Dutch hitchiker, a very old book, and a fictitious closing of Dulles airport (read the previous entry for a more detailed account). His other social media accounts went silent also, and for a few days no one heard from him through those networks.
The disappearance of an important and very present voice in the academic community— who had been writing about 700 tweets per month for a long time— did not go unnoticed. It was a huge silence that quickly generated buzz, questions, concerns, and even a little stalking as a Twitter follower actually followed Mark Sample around campus and to one of his classes to make sure he was okay and shared it with the community. As it turns out, this social media blackout was part of Sample’s performance writing. And whether intended or not, it was a move that resonates with John Cage’s use of silence.
But the silence didn’t last. In addition to the curious and concerned tweets from the Digital Humanities and Electronic Literature communities, others were ready to continue a performance of @samplereality, though under different accounts and circumstances (I will use plural, though it might be a single person creating multiple accounts).
With echoes of “The Death of Superman” storyline and cyberpunk imagery, Mark Sample’s Twitter identity was split into three accounts— Marcus Sample, Real Mark Smaple, and wire:59458,62. Their tweets started on February 1, 2013, slowly unfolding a science fiction narrative of a Mark Sample trapped in “Mentation Island 9” with a device wired into his ear canal that can apparently tweet his thoughts.
As of this entry, the story is still unfolding, and its Mark Sample seems to have pulled off the sentient cable from out of his ear, though he still seems to be able to communicate with it, somehow.
Mark Sample himself seems to have split into two consciousnesses, which can have conversations via Twitter— and “Real Mark Smaple” seems to like to make references to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” This isn’t merely a reference to the symbolic wall in this famous concept album, but considering that Real Mark Smaple’s Twitter address is “10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10,” it may refer to the basic structural unit of a labyrinth. Are these splinters of @samplereality’s persona lost in an endless cybernetic labyrinth?
But there’s more.
That’s right: more Mark Samples. Some engage in conversations with other Mark Samples, @ReMarkSample seeks to refute the authenticity of some of the fake Mark Sample’s statements, and others don’t seem to be part of the narrative, but seem to embody or invert other aspects of @samplereality’s persona.
It’s a big mess, but an enjoyable one to witness. And it’s worth exploring, particularly the science fiction storyline, which uses the Tweet as a unit for narrative and poetic engagement with language. These accounts have moments of visual poetry, code poetry, and tactical line breaks that evoke each speakers’ consciousness. I recommend looking up the accounts in Twitter and scrolling all the way to the beginning to appreciate this chronologically. Following the accounts is also a good way to read their tweets as they appear, dotting your Twitter stream with artistic weirdness. Netprovs are best enjoyed live.
And in the meantime, be mindful for @samplereality’s return, resuming a performance that mixes fiction and reality, academia and adventure.