Paste Parties: The Ephemeral, Chaotic Joy of Random Clipboards

Yesterday was my birthday, and like I’ve done for the last four years, I posted a single tweet that instantly destroyed my mentions for over 24 hours.

That tweet kicked off a paste party with over 2,000 replies, a potpourri of pure chaos and joy.

Random strings from emails and chat, passwords and 2FA tokens to unknown apps, screenshots and photos, obscure Unicode characters, dollar amounts from spreadsheets, bits of text in languages from Python to Esperanto, and so many links to articles, songs, videos, tweets, and obscure web pages.

It’s a momentary snapshot of digital ephemera, to be used and immediately discarded, much of it never meant to be seen by anyone and stripped of all context.

I first saw this idea in a private file-sharing/discussion community, and tried it on Twitter back in 2012, giving away copies of games and movies to people who replied with the contents of their clipboard. (Those attempts netted 14 and 24 replies, respectively, but Twitter won’t show threaded replies for older tweets.)

But the idea goes back much further. Discussion forums and message boards have played variations of the “Ctrl+V Game” (or “Ctrl+V Threads”) since at least the early 2000s. Some of them ran for years, like this 12-year-long thread from Ants Marching with 4,500 replies.

The earliest examples I found are this Usenet thread from May 2001 (thanks, Ben!) and this thread from October 2001, but pre-2001 digital archives are hard to search these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if this idea went back to forums, Usenet, and BBSes in the ’80s or ’90s. (Add a comment if you know more!)

Without context, everything seems more mysterious. You wonder what it meant, or why someone had it in their clipboard.

It’s a great way to discover interesting links to music, video, articles, and web pages, because if it was in someone’s clipboard, it probably means they found it interesting enough to send to someone.

Our clipboards show temporary glimpses of work in progress, whether it’s art, design, or code.

And so many good videos.

It’s also a snapshot of a moment in time: we’re at the height of a global pandemic, and our clipboards reflect it in the content we’re copying.

This tiny peek into everyone’s lives — their work, interests, and concerns, or even just the mundane momentary ephemera that’s forgotten two seconds later — is the perfect birthday gift.

Thanks for the presents. See you next year. ✂️📋🎉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *