I turned mobile notifications on for a Twitter account that shares daily updates about a cat with a funny habit. She has become an increasingly important matter of concern for her now 13,000-strong follower base. I have investigated the world of this cat in an effort to understand why I’ve become addicted to finding out the answer to this question:
Is a cat in the sink?
Inhabiting a gently-used white (ceramic? I am not sure) sink in a private but friendly-looking kitchen, a luxuriously plump, short-haired cat named Six reigns. In calm repose, her knowing gaze relays an unadulterated peace.
Six is the subject of the popular-but-not-yet-viral Twitter account, @isacatinthesink. The account answers a simple question (is she in the sink?), but do not underestimate its power to seduce you. Yes, even you anti-cat people will come to see Six’s side of the kitchen. Within two weeks of April, she nearly doubled her followers.
There is no looking back now. For the rest of your life, you will always know who she is.
Most of the time, she isn’t in the sink. Then, she is
Even if there isn’t a cat in the sink at this very moment, there’s no telling what may happen next. Replies to every tweet include dozens of “I turned on notifications for this” comments. Other replies celebrate or bemoan the given answer. I’m not the only one who needs to know, all the time, what Six is up to. The updates come at all hours and they delight with an expediency that can only be best compared to receiving a text from a loved one.
While I think others view the updates quite differently, whether Six is in the sink doesn’t really matter to me, because the updates are the prize. Patterns emerge with the updates: Nos usually follow nos; rarely does a yes follow a yes (in fact, I have never seen a back-to-back yes update). For the patient adorer, you will eventually know if Six in the sink today. It’s an oath that is always honored in a world full of broken promises. This is both soothing and provides a meaningful experience over time, one that has become admittingly addicting for me. Even now, I wonder what the next update will be. What are you up to now, Six?
Mapping Out Six’s Domain and Political Positioning
The sink itself is of average size for the kitchen of a bungalow or other suburban home (and looks enviously large to this apartment renter). It sits in front of a window recently bespeckled by those floppy cut-out heart shapes made of gel that temporarily stick to glass and are most often found for sale at the end of Rite-Aid aisle labeled “seasonal decor.” It’s easy to guess why a cat might love this particular sink. The light occasionally shines on her face, but Six seems to be quite cool and relaxed in most of the photos.
This is the domain of Six. In her kitchen, plates, glasses, food, flowers, and access to water from the faucet are her private belongings, if not offerings laid to rest at the steps of her majestic throne. In addition to providing a central location to receive visitors and the world’s attention, the sink may also allow Six to view the rest of the room the way savvy cowboys and assassins do when in public spaces. In many Western countries, there’s a long-held piece of advice that a person (usually, a man) should take the seat closest to a wall, so that he can see the events in a room (perhaps preventing or avoiding violence). Six secures a position near the window — at once able to see the outside world and view the kitchen. (She has been seen in other sinks, notably a bathroom sink far too small for her.)
This raises some logistical problems for the human residents of the home (which include her official photographer, whose identity will remain anonymous here). The sink is in use from time to time (sometimes, the pictures have a glass in it). We don’t know where Six goes during these times. Perhaps she’s meeting with dignitaries or ambassadors, securing new wealth for the kingdom (the black cat in the photo below, by the way, is the other cat who lives with Six).
A review of the account’s activity indicates its early days were spent following fellow felines on Twitter and interacting with them and replying to questions from followers. These days, @isacatinthesink ignores calls and cries. Six has become increasingly popular and is simultaneously less inclined to acknowledge it, but her followers don’t seem to mind one bit.
Who Is Six? A Discussion with Jonny Sun
I asked Jonny Sun, a fellow devotee of Six, to help contextualize her popularity, purpose on Twitter, and environment as we understand it from the updates sent by @isacatinthesink. The below has been lightly edited.
Margarita: When you see an update from @isacatinthesink, what are you looking for? What emotions does it provoke?
Jonny: It’s kind of this amazing thing because its premise is the entire reason for its existence. So when I see an update, I want to see if the cat is in the sink! The amazing delightful beauty is in its simplicity. You can break it down so many ways. One is that it’s a perfectly distilled narrative setup of tension and release. It’s a joke set-up where the punchline is a photo of a cat in a sink.
On another level, it illustrates humankind’s obsession with the mysteries of animal behavior. With the account, there’s this undercurrent of exasperation, almost a sarcastic wit to the entire thing, where you can imagine the person behind this account giving up on keeping the cat out of the sink, and creating the most hilariously passive-aggressive way to show their frustration, bewilderment, or bemusement. For everyone else, we relate both the hilarious mystery of what even is a cat, and also empathize with the cat’s owner, who has surrendered their kitchen to the rule of Six. It also just makes me want to cheer every time Six is in the sink. It’s such a pure moment of excitement and happiness for me.
By framing it as a question of “is a cat in the sink,” the account creates this amazing suspense, and when Six is in the sink, it’s like all is right with the world. It suggests that there is *supposed* to be a cat in the sink and when there isn’t, we feel sad. But when there is, we feel happy. But above all else, we will always be able to hope that the cat is in the sink. I like that. The cat is in the sink. I’m going to start saying that when everything feels like it’s in its rightful place. Hey. It’s going to be okay. The cat is in the sink.
I have a theory that Six likes the sink because it gives her a great vantage point to see the room, but I wonder what your guess might be.
Jonny: Honestly, I have no idea. I think that’s what makes it so amazing. I actually had no idea that cats liked sinks until I saw this account. But apparently, it’s not just Six that does this. My favorite thing has been going through the comments under their tweets and seeing so many other cat owners posting photos of their own cats sitting in sinks. Apparently it’s a thing! And nobody knows why! One of the coolest things about this account is that it is able to illustrate some small, universal specificity– it has found one of these very specific and intimate details that feel true to everyone. The fact that so many cat owners see this account and think “WAIT OTHER CATS DO THIS?! WHAT? WHY!” is such a cool thing. And the fact that everyone else can see this and think “wow, I had no idea cats did this but this makes perfect sense and aligns with everything I know about how cats work” makes it this really appealing, funny, charming account. It brings people together in sort of group bonding process over the most specific thing, that somehow becomes this really universal thing.
I’m pretty sure Six lives with another cat. How do you think that cat’s relationship influences Six’s behavior, if at all?
Jonny: Hmmm… wait, how did you find this out?! Are there small tiny details and hints of a second cat in some of these pictures?! Can you parse these things out from close readings of the photos that have been posted? Honestly this just makes the account even better. What is this mystery of the other cat?! Are we ever going to see the other cat in the sink?! The plot thickens. I’m so intrigued!!
We have seen the other cat in the sink — here’s a tweet with Six and the cat co-catibiting the sink, with a visibily flustered Six:
Do you follow other Twitter cats? How did Six attract your attention?
Jonny: I actually don’t follow other cats on Twitter, but what I really love about this account, aside from how amazing Six is, is that the premise is built on a very clear algorithm. It’s basically a Twitter bot that is run by a human:
If: <cat in sink>, then <post photo of cat in sink>;
else: <tweet “no”>
The account, like all of the best Twitter bot accounts, runs on its own specific and unwavering logic. It sets up its own world and set of rules, and makes everyone else adhere to those rules. The greatest thing about Twitter bots, to me, is that they put me in the world of the bot. They become this safe solace from the rest of the chaos of the world by welcoming me into a world of very simple rules. In this case, every time I see this account tweet, it takes me out of the apocalyptic dystopia of our real world and puts me into this calming world where the ONLY thing that matters is if the cat is in the sink or not. Because it’s such a closed loop, it becomes this safe haven, if even for a split second (FYI, I previously wrote about this appeal of Twitter Bots in the Internet Review of 2016).
@isacatinthesink is complementary to accounts like @dog_rates in a similar genre kind of way, but there’s no narrative attached to Six’s updates, whereas most animal accounts seem to be driven by a narrative. In that sense, it’s almost the opposite of accounts like @dog_rates. It’s as if Six is rating us, the humans, even if we still attach a narrative to it after each update.
Jonny: I think there’s a great amount of narrative to it – it’s almost like a distillation of narrative! “Is a cat in the sink” is such a pure form of narrative! I think it’s opposite to @dog_rates too, in the sense that with this account, we really see one cat, Six, many times, as opposed to many different cats, once. I love how each successive post deepens my relationship to this cat, and gives me more and more reason to love this cat.
How would you explain @isacatinthesink to someone who’s not on Twitter?
Jonny: The account is one of the most delightful things in the world. I love it because it takes the entirety of this narrative dramatic principle of tension and release and distills it down to its most basic premise. This account is storytelling at its purest form, in a way that only works on Twitter. This account is the purest explanation of why Twitter exists and how Twitter works. It represents all the best things about Twitter and none of the worst. I hope the cat is in the sink.
If you thought the web had answered every question about cats, you’d be wrong. I am here to tell you that this is a new kind of thing. There’s a reassuring answer on its way. What else in the universe is so reliably constant outside the known laws of physics and the very passage of time?
Someday, we will no longer know if a cat is in the sink. It’s almost too painful to think about, but there will come a time when (like all Twitter accounts) @isacatinthesink will no longer send me an update. Until then, we have today. Is a cat in the sink today?