I was clearing out an old email address a couple of years ago when I spotted a message from a woman I didn’t know. She had been talking to a man online and had become suspicious of his identity. When she did a search on his profile picture, my name came up. She sent me a link to a Google+ account that had my photo and somebody else’s name, but I couldn’t see much else. I had never been particularly strict with online privacy, so I thanked her and reported it to Google. It didn’t seem like a big deal.
Things got weirder when she invited me to join a Facebook group: 20 young women – who had all been talking online to a man called “Paul Green” – were trying to figure out his true identity. They were sharing his profile pictures and the photos he’d emailed them. They were all of me. He’d cropped my new baby niece out of a very recent photo. There was one of me from school, fooling around with a piano keyboard on my head; it was so old I’d forgotten it. It must have been from my deleted Myspace account.
He had talked to these women on teenage forums, dating sites, Facebook, Twitter, Google… and from multiple email addresses. Some had spoken to him on Skype – without video. One girl forwarded me email after email of their conversations. They had been talking for four years. They’d told each other, “I love you.” He said that – like me – he was 22. The young women ranged in age from mid-teens to early 20s. He’d talked of sending them gifts and persuaded some to send pictures back. One message read, “Thank you for those photos, my body shivered a little.” It was creepy.
He came across as intelligent. He liked poetry and literature, and spoke Spanish. He had gained their trust and some of them thought they were in a relationship with him. One said to me, “Oh, it was you we’ve been talking to.” But I had to say, “No. Not at all. These aren’t my interests. This is not me.”
I went to the police, but they weren’t interested. The law doesn’t cover you to protect your face…
The contributions to this book explore a phenomenon that appears to be a contradiction in itself – we, the users of computers, can be tracked in digital space for all eternity. Although, on the one hand, one wants to be noticed and noticeable, on the other hand one does not necessarily want to be recognized at the first instance, being prey to an unfathomable public, or – even less so – to lose face.
A stream of Terry A. Davis & TempleOS related videos sourced from the https://archive.org/details/TerryADavis_TempleOS_Archive Terry A. Davis had schizophrenia. A severe mental disability. It was not uncommon for him to say things many would consider offensive. This stream can be very NSFW.
“Something funny is going on in these comments,” the NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted last Thursday, watching a Facebook live-stream of Mark Zuckerberg giving a speech at Georgetown University.
Zuckerberg’s talk was about the company’s commitment to “voice and free expression.” He elaborated on Facebook’s recent decision not to vet political ads for lies, before outlining the difference between Facebook’s policies and those of one of its main rivals, the Chinese company TikTok, which has been criticizedrepeatedly for censorship.
All the while, comments streamed down the side of the video, often so many at once it was hard to read them. They were nearly universally positive. Many were gushing. Almost all of them seemed to be about Mark Zuckerberg as a person—a great person!—and virtually none were even remotely related to the content of the speech. Not only had these people tuned in by the tens of thousands on a Thursday to watch a software company’s CEO discuss corporate policy, but they were blessing him with prayer-hand emoji and hearts, thanking him for his genius and his generous spirit, and occasionally, it seemed, trying to flirt with him.
“You’re looking very handsome and dashing …” one read, with a kissy-face emoji. “Looking very sweet and cute … Lots of love for you.” It ended with a fire emoji and a peace sign. “This man left an indelible footprint in the sands of time. Thanks a lot for this wonderful platform called FACEBOOK,” went another.
The replies to Collins’s tweet were full of suspicion. These had to be spam, or bots gravitating toward any video with sufficient engagement, or an astroturfing campaign organized by Facebook’s PR team. There could not possibly be this many people who love Mark Zuckerberg this much. Fast Company quickly published a piece that said the comments “sure look censored”; minutes later, Facebook was on the record with several outlets denying any interference. When a post or video has an extraordinarily high volume of comments, Facebook automatically sifts through them using “ranking signals” to filter out inauthentic or “low-quality” posts, a spokesperson told The Washington Post, but nothing was different for this particular stream.
Once the stream ended, it was easy to go back and find negative comments (“LIZARD,” “Liar,” “Oppressor of free will, free speech, and the king of manipulation of the weak-minded!”), as well as a fair amount of total gibberish, but it was also fairly obvious that the thousands-upon-thousands of super-positive comments were not from bots. They were too specific and strange not to be real.
Last year, hospitalized and bedridden for several months following a suicide attempt, Salina Marie Gomez turned on individual notifications for Elon Musk’s tweets. Her interest had been piqued in late 2016, after hearing about Musk at work. She looked him up and watched an interview — the one where he’s talking about SpaceX and the challenges it faces as a company. The one where he tears up a little. A few months later, while she was stuck in bed recovering, her admiration grew into something more.
“That was the only thing that was giving me hope, you know, to keep going,” she told me over the phone earlier this month. “I realized, like, ‘This is why I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with my own career, my own endeavors, because I haven’t been seeing the whole picture. I’ve just been seeing what humanity has been doing wrong, and not what we’ve been doing right.’”
Today, Gomez, a 39-year-old artist living in Westmont, Illinois, is working on Tweeting Me Softly, an illuminated book of Musk’s tweets. She considers herself more of a follower than a fan, explaining that fandom is for artists. “Not that I don’t consider him an artist,” she says. “I consider him one of the best artists. But I wouldn’t consider myself a fan because [the word] implies a kind of a blind obsession with a celebrity.” She is, however, a fan of what he’s doing. “Specifically getting us away from fossil fuels, getting us away from the addiction to oil,” she says. “[He has] a bigger, complete vision of where we’re going as a species, and is helping people remember that progress is good, and it doesn’t have to be this terrible thing.”
Gomez describes Musk fans as “woke” and unafraid of what’s wrong with the world. She believes Musk is making our planet a better place, and that his detractors are just consumers who “don’t want to be inconvenienced.” Journalists, she says, “cherry-pick” stories to piss him off. “They use them as weapons,” she says. “And it’s inappropriate, because what he’s doing is dire and essential for human survival … Sometimes media is there to really stop what he’s doing.” Gomez continues: “As a supporter of what he’s doing, [I’ve] become enraged because this is my future, too. And this is my planet, too.”
Gomez isn’t alone. She’s one member of a vast, global community of people who revere the 46-year-old entrepreneur with a passion better suited to a megachurch pastor than a tech mogul. With followers like her, Elon Musk — the South African-born multibillionaire known for high-profile, risky investments such as Tesla (electric cars), SpaceX (private space travel), the Boring Company (underground travel), and Neuralink (neurotechnology) — has reaped the benefits of a culture in which fandom dominates nearly everything. While his detractors see him as another out-of-touch, inexpert rich guy who either can’t or won’t acknowledge the damage he and his companies are doing, to his fans, Musk is a visionary out to save humanity from itself. They gravitate toward his charisma and his intoxicating brew of extreme wealth, a grand vision for society — articulated through his companies, which he has an odd habit of launching with tweets — and an internet-friendly playfulness that sets him apart from the stodgier members of his economic class. Among his more than 22 million followers, all of this inspires a level of righteous devotion rarely glimpsed outside of the replies to a Taylor Swift tweet.
I’ll always remember him wearing that backwards baseball cap, showing off his creation with excited eyes. “I am the smartest programmer that ever lived,” he says several times. As the video gravitates to profanity-laced chest-thumping, he demonstrates the 3D shapes he’s just coded up to spin over his command line. He calls Unix “the last war” and was critical of the Massachusetts Institute if Technology.
Davis’ work may continue, since there’s a fork of TempleOS “for heretics.” It’s called Shrine.
“The phrase, ‘tortured artist’ is thrown around a lot, but he really was a tortured artist… it’s a sad end to a life that went awry for reasons beyond his or anyone’s control.”
“He needed a lot of help, but a great hacker has passed, and we should remember him for his work.”
“I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it’s been living such a challenging life for all these years.”
“I always thought of Terry as somewhat of an anti-hero of the hacker community. Most of us know what it feels like to go down a rabbit hole building something technically impressive, yet ultimately useless, because the voices in our heads told us to.”
Over 600 people upvoted the story, offering one more testimonial to the memories Davis left behind. In the end, nearly 200 comments were added to the thread.
Terry Davis asks God about war (“Servicemen competing”) and death (“awful”), about dinosaurs (“Brontosaurs’ feet hurt when stepped”) and His favorite video game (“Donkey Kong”). God’s favorite car is a “Beamer,” and His favorite singer is Mick Jagger, though if He could sing He’d want to sound like Christopher Hall from Stabbing Westward. His favorite national anthem is Latvia’s. His favorite band is, no surprise, The Beatles, but Rush and Triumph are pretty good, too. Classical music is poison. The best thing Bill Gates could do to save lives, God says, is work on earthquake prediction. The Eleventh Commandment is “Thou shall not litter.” Terry Davis tells God everything seems bad. God replies: “Plant trees.”
The words pour out on TempleOS.org, a torrent of verified random numbers, news links, YouTube videos, and scriptural exegesis. It’s the dense work of a single, restless mind writing ceaselessly without an audience.
After two months of emails and phone conversations, I know more than when I began; specifically, I’ve accumulated more raw data, more facts about his life and experience. But I suspect I’ve only sketched a shadow. The full reality remains unreachable, an irreducible mystery.
Jesse Hick’s article is perhaps the best thing ever written about Terry and his work, you guys should absolutely check it out. And when Jesse finishes his follow up article, we will of course link our listeners right to it.