Every woman on Twitter — and not a few men — have experienced the annoyance of a persistent “Reply Guy.” He’s a dude who quickly assumes an overfamiliar attitude with you and whatever you’re posting about, and he has the time to reply to… everything. Even without direct acknowledgement or an occasional pity like, he will never leave your mentions alone. Chloe Bryan has a great explainer of the widespread phenomenon over at Mashable, and she includes this handy chart of various Reply Guy subspecies. (Go ahead and click through for the full thread of definitions; it’s well worth a read.)
As you can see, Reply Guys come in all shapes and sizes. What they share in common is the tenacity to serve up their inane two cents until you mute or block them. And while a range of comments will automatically flag you as one of these men, one tic seems to be universal across all types: “Charge your phone.”
This is their knee-jerk response to someone who has tweeted a phone screenshot — of a funny text exchange, for example — but has thereby revealed that their device’s battery life is almost depleted.
Writing in the Verge last year, Bijan Stephen submitted that roasting one another’s battery percentages “brought the internet together.” He’s right that in the early days of phone screenshots, this meme provided the opportunity for harmless jabs between extremely online friends. But I’m struck by what he identified as the original battery callout, a single panel from Randall Munroe’s webcomic xkcd. For this 2014 comic, Munroe drew a screenshot in which the phone is at 6 percent. (Actually, he drew a screenshot of a screenshot, presumably to show his own robust battery level of 85 percent.) The caption is: “When someone posts a screenshot of their phone, I can’t pay attention to their content if the battery is low.” Instead, he sees the shrinking red bar.
It’s a one-off gag, and perhaps more a comment on Munroe’s own mental wiring — he used to be a roboticist with NASA — than a directive to keep your phone plugged in whenever possible. Yet I think his geeky audience took it a third way, spotting a chance at smug superiority: No one with a dying phone could really have their life together, and pointing this out could be a pastime. How else to explain the 22,000 subscribers of Reddit’s r/ChargeYourPhone, where the complaint takes on some… weird aggression?
There’s strong correlation between the salty neckbeards of Reddit (many of whom qualify as toxic so-called “nice guys”) and the Reply Guys of Twitter — it’s a basic mediocrity that presents itself as unique intelligence. They’re know-it-alls who know far less than the women they wish to correct, would-be comedians whose idea of a joke is repeating someone else’s joke back to them, only louder, and with garbled syntax.
“Charge your phone” is, in theory, the basis of a shared truth or ritual, as when everyone replies “nice” to a tweet that features the number 69. In practice, it’s just obnoxious.
The battery-obsessed boys probably fall into the first column of the Reply Guy grid — ostensibly, they believe this is helpful. It also happens to tick many, many boxes on the Reply Guy checklist. Does it make him seem observant and detail-oriented, perhaps a little smarter than everyone else? He seems to think so! Does it mean he can ignore the actual content the woman posted? Of course: Remember the source xkcd comic, in which an empty battery icon is just too distracting, and the rest of the screenshot becomes a vague blur. Does it condescend in a way he expects people to find charming or humorous? You bet your ass it does. He’s half shaming, half mansplaining on a topic where literally everyone in the developed world is an expert — as if most people struggle to keep their phones on, or just buy another when their screen goes dark — and he’s the millionth guy to do it that day. Nobody is ever impressed or amused.
All the standard remarks in the Reply Guy repertoire are attention bait, whiny requests to slide into the DMs. But “charge your phone” is the ne plus ultra of the genre, keenly pathetic and low-effort even as it aspires to a teasing, high-status cleverness. No one who tries it deserves the time of day; they must be shunned until they come up with a new line, or, better yet, an actual personality. Remember, Twitter replies aren’t inherently bad; lively engagement is why any of us are on this dumb website in the first place. What requires vigilance is the chud who always pipes up when he has nothing to add.