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Internet Culture Politics

Day 764 and Natalism

There are a number of cultural streams in American life that have all aligned around being natalist. You want your country to have babies because it’s good for the economy. And presumably also good for national security.

This fairly basic insight means everyone from techno-libertarians to Catholic homesteaders believes that Americans should be having more babies. It is not just the Quiver-full types having six babies anymore, so are our wealthiest aristocratic titans of industry.

But this alliance is missing some crucial basics. Like for instance the fundamental civilization level things we need to do to make it desirable and affordable to have children. It’s expensive to be pregnant, it’s expensive to raise children, it’s expensive all around to be parents. I spent $40,000 on IVF and it ruined my health. If I counted lost wages and being forced to sell my startup I’m the total costs is seven figures.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at just the costs around having a baby but it will shock you every time you turn a new corner in the fertility space. I learned today you will spend between $100,000 to $200,000 to hire a surrogate. It’s a person’s salary and a lot of medical care so sure that seems right but damn.

I guess I am interested in the math of Natalism to see if I could afford it. I am one of those “tech elites” that thinks we have to have children to drive the innovation of tomorrow. Our future is based on an optimistic hope that maybe we can push for a better future. Humanity won’t continue without children.

But I don’t have a body that is all that healthy without medical intervention. I live a normal life now and can work full time again because I take some exceptional medicine.

But it’s not medicinal regime that can be combined with pregnancy. So if I want to carry a child I have to go off what amounts to life saving medicine. Without it I’d be on bed rest. You can imagine the math I’m doing in my head? Do I want to pour another million into having a family?

So what’s a girl like me to do? Surrogacy right? But I’ve got 10 eggs and 2 embryos so assuming a third of them make it, that’s nearly half a million dollars in surrogacy fees. To get three kids. That’s a heavy price tag on the future. If more of them take it gets even wilder.

Now ok sure I’d rather we encourage a world where younger healthy folks do things naturally but don’t we want everyone going at maximum effort for a better tomorrow? Shouldn’t we want technology to solve this? Where are my artificial wombs at?

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Internet Culture

Day 760 and Beginner’s Mindset

I recently decided to boot back up my Instagram account. I’d let it lay dormant for almost five years. A lot has changed since I stopped using it. I’ll withhold judgement on whether it is for the worse or not. Right now it’s mostly just modestly confusing. I feel like a beginner again.

Amusingly one of the first genres of advertisements I got was for Instagram editing tools. There is a whole cottage industry of paid applications that help you put together Reels and Stories.

Many of them are relatively sophisticated with templates that help you overlay text, audio, music and advanced video techniques. Being a creator these days requires a fair amount of sophistication so I’m not surprised to find $10 a month editing applications.

I am struggling to find to find the joy in the experience. It feels like like a lot more work to make visual content than written. Now, I grant that it didn’t feel easy writing at first either. Twitter was stop and go for me for years.

But Instagram is a more natural place for some of my interests like cosmetics and shopping. I want to give it a fair shake. And maybe I’ll find joy in the space with some time. But becoming fluent in the language of Instagram’s visual literacy makes me feel stupid. But I guess that’s what it feels like to be a beginner again.

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Internet Culture

Day 759 and All Dressed

Social media has given us so many ways to become fans. We have ever more content thanks the streaming wars. Give content a chance to live everywhere online and it will develop a fanbase beyond its intended audience. The internet gives small shows outsized impact.

I’m a fan of a Canadian comedy called a Letterkenny. It’s about a small town in Canada. It’s got people and their problems. It’s a very funny character study and has fundamentally warm and loving humor. I’ve watched every episode and the spin-off. I’ve taken a lot of solace in the very human nature of the show, particularly during the pandemic years when everyone felt far away from each other.

There is a phenomenon that is particularly prominent online called parasocial relationships. Someone creates art or a personality and it develops a fandom. Over time, the fans, through repeated exposure to a character or show, believe they know them like a friend. It is fun to be in the fandom. Enjoying art is a universal experience. I am a stan for Letterkenny. I’m in a parasocial relationship with the Letterkenny crew and it’s universe.

How deep is it? Well my husband and I recently ordered some Canadian chip flavor called all dressed featured on an episode of Letterkenny. The chip is, as the name suggests, every single type of flavor. It is salt and vinegar, bbq, ketchup (weird but crucial), and sour cream & onion. And it is absolutely delicious. As a Twitter friend said to me, it is the Dr Pepper of chips. It’s not for everyone but it’s spectacular.

All dressed ruffle potato chips

Because it is Sunday, I am taking a medically necessary amount of THC. I’ve had a gummy. And I thought this was a perfect moment to try the Letterkenny chip.

And it was indeed glorious. All dresseds is a chip made for the munchies. It’s got bite and taste and texture and it all rolls up into an experience. It’s a chip worthy of the extra attention of weed focus.

And because I am extremely online I shared my appreciation for it on Twitter.

Now on Letterkenny there is a clique called the Skids. They are the weird kids. They are the hipster ones. They are the nerds. They are small town weed dealers. Asking me to pick a favorite on Letterkenny is like asking me to pick a favorite child. One of the Skids is Roald. He is a loyal friend but his own man. He definitely likes weed. I love Roaldie.

And I’m delighted to learn through my all dressed munchies Tweet, that the actor who plays him, Evan Stern, is following me. He likes the tweet. What a perfect way to enjoy a very specific kind of fandom. A parasocial relationship’s individual manifestation through social media. Now that I’ve made a big deal out of all this I should probably say hi to Evan. It’s going to be weird no matter what but it brought me a lot of joy. It’s good to be a fan.

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 758 and Two Sides

I somehow missed watching the Mandalorian when it came out. My husband isn’t really into Star Wars and I’m a Star Trek person so as just missed it. I started watching it today for the first time and I’m experiencing it somewhat fresh of its original release context.

But I’ve got a vague memory of the culture war issues that it triggered at the time. Somehow Gina Carano got coded to team red and champion of the downtrodden right wing. I honestly couldn’t tell you why except I think she mouthed off on Twitter. She sacrificed her career as a main character on prestige Disney tv show for shitposting. She thought she had social latitude that she just didn’t when working for Big Mouse. Shockingly naive if I’m honest.

That somehow everything has a side in the culture wars is a real tragedy of our time. Because a couple years pass and whatever dumb stunt that got you put on team red or team blue probably gets forgotten. Normal people have moved on and the discourse gets digested eventually into common knowledge. Memory is a fickle thing. Madeleines and Proust or something in that direction.

If you are team red you go into an alternate universe where apparently being a dick with a right wing slant on YouTube gets you 50 million dollar media deals. I assume there are as many opportunities as now being on team red is a real badge of honor and whole media ecosystems arise because it’s an actual demographic. Shocking somehow to some people but I guess I’ve always lived adjacent to team red. I’ve be always known you could make money on that audience.

I suppose the real tell is that if you are team blue you don’t really change ecosystems at all if you pick their side in the culture war. You get to maintain your plum gig at Disney. You do not have Ron DeSantis gunning for you. I hear that woke mobs come to get you but I’ve never actually seen it in action. The worst part of my chaotic evil leftist Twitter bubble stops at Taylor Lorenz though I am aware that a murky left exists beyond Chapo Trap House and I know about Tankies.

It just seems so strange to take sides in any of this nonsense if your aim is to make a living as a performer. Sure maybe you can cater to one niche or another. But really isn’t the whole point finding the things that bind us all in the human experience? I always assumed art was meant to transcend whatever petty shit happened while making it.

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Internet Culture

Day 755 and Instagram

I haven’t been on my Instagram account since 2018. I stopped actively posting in 2017. I’d become absolutely sick of the social media platform and the relentless aspirational influencer content marketing that had taken over my feed. I can’t say I’ve missed it, but I’ve decided to reinstall the application and begin posting again.

I’ve been a participant in the “creator economy” long before it had a name. A college friend set me up on a WordPress blog after a fellow student had written a piece criticizing me for being interested in fashion on campus.

I’d written something about designer denim in the competing school newspaper. My friend told me I needed to watch out as this new nemesis was going to ruin my Google results. From these petty seeds a fashion blogging “empire” was born.

I have some dubious distinctions from being early to social media. Women’s Wear Daily claimed I was the first person to liveblog fashion week in 2006. I turned that into an advertising network for online lifestyle publishers called Coutorture. It was eventually acquired by PopSugar. I went on to work at a number of luxury and fashion brands before starting my own cosmetics line.

I’d like to think having been there from the start of the creator economy counts for something but the harsh truth is that once you stop posting you tend to disappear from any social network. I stopped fashion blogging for my own enjoyment once I made it into a career.

During my girlboss years as the CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics being on Instagram felt like a part of my job. I had enjoyed it more when I wasn’t obligated to look cool. I remember 2012 Instagram fondly as a place where you followed photographers and fashion insiders at work. By 2016 it was loaded with aspirational lifestyle content. I felt like I all I saw was sponsored content.

Somewhere in that timeframe I racked up 30,000 followers. I don’t think I ever maintained anything remotely professional. It was just pictures of whatever was happening in my life so the usual mix of food and travel. It didn’t seem like a huge loss to walk away.

Oddly even if my follower count on Twitter isn’t actually that much larger than my Instagram account I feel like I’m much more influential there. I’m better with words clearly. I am a shitposter so it always felt lower stakes. And maybe that’s why it’s less of a burden in my mind. I do Twitter joyfully.

But I’m going to experiment with Instagram again. I’ve got visual things in my life that are worth sharing as I’ve now got a totally new aspirational lifestyle. I’ve graduated from fashion influencer to doomer optimist. Homesteading and cozy farmhouse is it’s own aesthetic and maybe I’ll enjoy sharing mine. And I’ll admit that I’m not at all above coveting back on gifting lists. I guess if you enjoy that sort of thing find me back on Instagram. Or if you want to send me some free stuff I’m open to getting back into the SponCon game.

Categories
Emotional Work Internet Culture

Day 726 and Healing

As most of my extended network is aware, I am a big fan of therapy. We all grow up in imperfect families doing their best in a cruel world. No one is immune from emotional hurt, especially if you came by those wounds in childhood. Healing those old wounds as an adult is the kindest thing you can do for yourself and is not reflective of any weakness on your part or failure of your family.

Hurt people hurt. Every single one of us has lingering traumas from our childhood no matter how privileged our lives or lucky our circumstances. Trauma is universal. No one escapes being alive without some.

One of the most relatable types of hurt a child will experience is being made to feel less than, an outsider, unworthy or unloved. Our families might not intend for us to feel this way but it’s not uncommon to be bullied or ignored or told we are unworthy. If we do not find ways to heal from feeling like we are less than others, we will make others feel the same way. And we are obligated as responsible adults to not victimize others.

Nerds who don’t heal their trauma wound of being “unpopular” become quite dangerous when they go from underdog to ruling class

When I was young being called a nerd was an insult. But now as an adult the power dynamics have shifted significantly. The intellectuals have inherited the earth. But too many of us remember ourselves as victims of the strong. As adults we have an obligation to adjust our priors as we are no longer victims of what we experienced in childhood. In fact, we now we have the upper hand. Revenge of the nerds is due for an update.

We must remind our inner child that those days are over. We survived. It’s over. We are now strong adults with our own agency and capacity to set boundaries. Of course, it’s a hard task to reason with our inner child. The ego is very accomplished at guarding us from reality. It doesn’t want us to repeat those traumas and rightly so. It only takes being burned once to avoid the fire.

But if we don’t work to understand why we we still react as adults as if we were a hurt child the wounds of childhood trauma we will never allow us to reality.

If you want to see the truth of your circumstances consider going to therapy. If you cannot afford it, there are many recovery programs that are free to attend like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. Contrary to popular perception they are not just for addicts. Heal yourself. We are all rooting for you.

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Internet Culture

Day 725 and Messaging on Twitter

For all the debate and consternation and concern around Elon Musk buying Twitter, there was a sizable group of power users, myself included, who were optimistic that Elon taking over would lead to a revitalization of the Twitter product. An injection of user aligned passion to fix all the little stuff that would improve the experience. So far we’ve gotten different colored verification badges and ads that are stuck to the top of our feeds.

But speaking as someone who’s seen it grow from the earliest days, who has spent untold hours on the site, for whom it’s been a lifeline during the pandemic and my own health issues, there’s really there’s only one thing that Twitter needs: make it a first class messaging application. Make DMs great again.

I love Twitter’s direct messaging feature. It is the glue that holds together my deal flow and my fundraising. It has all of the network of LinkedIn professionally, with none of its cringe. In fact, Twitter makes you look cooler. It’s the place where your achievements meet your personality. It actually is a holistic place to display yourself as a person. And shockingly we like to work with people that are authentic. Humans like empathy and vulnerability.

A Twitter DM comes with context. You know if you are mutuals. You can open it to people your followers follow. An excellent heuristic for deciding on how to direct your attention. You trust your network to make some decisions for you.

The ability to connect with people via DMs literally can’t be recreated elsewhere – there’s no trading contact info, confirming who you are on, – just see something interesting, click the person, send a message.

And because these messages are so powerful we desperately need improved features for communication on them. A few industry baseline improvements are all it would take to go from worst in class to baseline usability.

Threaded/Contextual Responses

A Twitter DM has no in-line individual message responses. This makes it hard to have a conversation that flows like it does in iMessage, Signal or WhatsApp. It makes it utterly chaos for Group DMs. Of which I’m in a number. I’ve used them to organize parties at crypto conferences and to guide the direction of a Doomer community. Imagine how crazy a chat with 20 people in it looks like without inline messaging. Absolutely nuts. But still easier than migrating to Discord.

Organization

While this isn’t technically a feature set for just DM, right now we can’t search our own followers or organize them with anything but the most manual full sight search. It would have been handy to see everyone who follows me in Austin Texas when I was there for the conference. I could have done a meet up much more easily. Or if founders could search by venture capital in profile bios and cross reference it with people their friends follow. Instant warm leads list.

We could build target lists based on who is most followed relevant to any of our passions or interests. Great Twitter users do this on intuition. That’s why Twitter is notorious for launching careers and fulfilling dreams. They had an entire advertising campaign based on it. #TwitterDoYourThing.

Search

DM search is completely unusable. I know multiple people who use texts.com literally JUST because it’s search of Twitter DMs work, unlike native search.

I’ve had some of the most valuable conversations of my life in DMs and yet its almost impossible to go back a few months later and find them.

Also while they’re at it, can they just fix Twitter search in general?

E2E Encryption

This one speaks for itself.

If Twitter could deliver on the promise of giving to its entire user base what it has given for its power users, their financial woes would surely improve. Plenty of proven ways to monetize people who you make money. But this all starts on the premise that we can message each other. We tweet into a wild stream and we get replies back. But what comes next is a better networked world. I’d be pissed if they took 10% but I would not scoff at 1%. If Elon wants to become WeChat he has to fix DMs first.

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Internet Culture

Day 722 and Extreme

When Stephen Colbert was still the titular character on his Comedy Central Show he had the perfect delivery for the word extreme. Imagine a wholesome Mountain Dew meets X Games meets Gen X meets Vin Diesel’s Triple X meme and you’ve got the basic delivery. Extreme!

White conservative beltway dudes pretending to like extreme sports is, of course, a joke from a simpler time. These days extreme sports are now just regular Olympic sports and Tony Hawk is old dude on Twitter. Gen X is turning 50 and the New York Times styles section has a feature on the gold rush for menopause.

Colbert’s kindly delivery of extreme being something fun, sugary and maybe a bit sporty, has given way to actual extremes. Tucker Carlson doesn’t pretend to be a cool for clout. Now we just go straight for extremist politics. All those years Colbert spent imitating Fox News anchors normalized their schtick to such an extent that Bill O’Reilly couldn’t keep up. Now I gather the Colbert spends his time atoning for this normalization by cracking bad Trump jokes. Or so I hear. I’ve not ever watched his new sincere late night show.

The other extreme we’ve got is weather. Which is what I’d actually intended to write about, before I spent multiple paragraphs explaining a joke. You see, America is in the middle of some very extreme weather. And every time I’ve checked the temperature in the last 48 hours I’ve recited Colbert’s extreme delivery in my head. It was terrifyingly cold in Montana yesterday. Bozeman got down to -45 Fahrenheit.

Extreme doesn’t seem like a fun word anymore. I’ve stopped associating it with snowboarding and yellow caffeinated drinks. Extreme is groypers meeting former Presidents and climate change upsetting the jet stream. We’ve collapsed arctic air into the lower forty right just as we’ve collapsed distinctions between parody and reality.

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Internet Culture

Day 717 and Walled Garden

The walled garden debate is back in Silicon Valley. What is a walled garden you ask? It’s a closed ecosystem in which your entry, exit and experience in the garden are controlled by a central entity. While modern social media has very centralized ownership structures, we’ve basically aligned on allowing sharing of content and interactions across and between platforms. We’ve homestead the modern social internet by tilling our profiles and tending our communities.

But people are straining at the compromises we’ve made over the years. Elon Musk is attempting a rather heavy handed walled garden strategy on Twitter by banning linking and promotion of competing websites.

It’s unclear if it will last at the moment as within hours Elon apologized for making a massive change without a vote. Whatever that means. It’s been six hours of chaos as people reactively extremely negative to being told you cannot link to your Instagram or Facebook accounts. A few dickriders attempted to defend it by saying it was freeloading but it isn’t really tragedy of the commons that Twitter can’t make money off my hard work.

I’m old enough to remember the sheer indignation of Linux dorks had for the all encompassing closed systems that is Apple. Jailbreaking was a pastime for a whole generation of nerds. Sure the money folks kept trying to contain their ecosystems giving us nonsense like America Online, but information wanted to be free right? Well Stewart Brand fans know that isn’t the whole quote

Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.

Stewart Brand Whole Earth Catalog

Whatever is going on inside Twitter and Elon Musk’s mind is unclear. But the basic tension of the internet has not changed. We built tools to network together whole worlds and that has been fucking with ideas of ownership and who gets paid since day one. Capitalism usually finds a way to ride on top of these issues of ownership and value but the technological progress came out space old norms quite quickly.

And we are in a moment where skepticism of these norms is being challenged. Why shouldn’t we get to chose how we engage with our own property online? Maybe we don’t own the land but we definitely homestead our little plots of internet land.

Because the nature of the internet is wild and untamed. It takes work to make it usable. And most of us don’t mind paying a fee to keep the grass trimmed. A few of us might even prefer a country club experience. But the trouble with any commons starts when enclosure starts.

And Elon seems to be going for something that’s more heavy handed HOA than parcel of land outside of county lines. And like your average president of the homeowners association, he seems to be taking concerns and criticisms quite personally.

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Internet Culture

Day 716 and Slightly Embarrassed

I spent my entire day on Twitter. I’m not embarrassed by that to be clear. It felt like a vacation day. And even though I live in a majestic mountain paradise, I will spend my time off inside looking at my phone.

Yes it was absolutely gorgeous day in Montana. I marveled at the playful pinks of the sunrise over the mountains in our backyard while drinking coffee. And then I got back in bed and on my phone. And you better believe I fucking doomacrolled.

I just gorged myself on cheap attention calories. Gimme that dopamine drip. I did not even try to modulate my consumption pattern or prevent myself from going into fight or flight. It was goblin mode. I’m still not embarrassed.

But Twitter is a fucking mess. Watching people go tribal on Elon Musk is worse than people going tribal on the president somehow. Maybe because it feels more personal to me? Don’t get me wrong Trump felt existential, but Elon Musk is personal.

And it’s fucking embarrassing watching people react to him and his decision making. Here it is my industry’s moment in the spotlight. The technology industry showing itself as a keeper of common goods and open discourse right? Absolutely fucking not. We’ve shat the bed. Old management was incompetent sure. But new management is not an improvement.

I went into Twitter being purchased by Elon Musk modestly optimistic. He’s our guy right? He’s one of us. He likes startups and capital and technology. He reads the same science fiction as me. We’ve got friends in common. This is what it’s like to be a fan of the home team right?

Well fuck me sideways it has been going poorly. The site is pretty broken but I’m over that. It’s just the constant mayhem. Dave Kellog termed it adhocracy. Some random bullshit happens and the whole website has to lurch around conspiracy theories and rationalization.

It has frankly not been a fine showing for techno-libertarians. Not sure about showing up for a monarch executive now that you’ve seen your civil rights up for terms-of-service revisions by fiat huh? I’ve always thought the neo-monarchists to be dickriders but that’s a sentence that’s only comprehensible to the terminally online. And yes I should go outside and touch snow. I’ll do that now.