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My Own Little Corner of the Internet 9 min read

My Own Little Corner of the Internet

On the value of curation, plus internet companies behaving badly, AI and writers, bull riding, outer space, and more.

By Cary Littlejohn

I’ve been thinking a lot my relationship to the internet in the past week, especially by way of my website and this newsletter.

I remember being excited about social media platforms long ago, but that excitement has long since evaporated. I use one or two, but not enthusiastically. The gravitational pull of Twitter still gets me, a reflexive habit when picking up the phone without rhyme or reason and clicking on an app. But it’s admittedly a dumpster fire.

I’ve never been a prolific creator on the app; I’m more a passive reader, an old-school chatroom lurker. Twitter was hilarious, and it sill can be every now and then. But sometime in grad school, we were encouraged to have personal websites to showcase our work to potential employers. I created my website, thanks to help from Squarespace (all those podcast ads paid off).

Then at another point in grad school, Delia Cai, of Deez Links fame, spoke to one of our classes and stressed the value of a personal newsletter. So I started one of those, thanks to Substack, and really fell in love with the form. It’s simplistic and minimalist and timeless. It also represents a direct connection to readers, which is really nice. 

But not too long ago, about a year now, I decided I wanted to bring the newsletter and website together, without needing them to be hosted by two different platforms. I opted for Ghost.

Unlike my experience with social media platforms, I found myself wanting to make more, instead of being a lurker, join the masses of “content creators” out there. I wanted to be able to write and post more than seemed fair to my subscribers. I wanted to blog. I wanted, though I’m not sure I could have articulated it at the time, to build what Austin Kleon calls a “good (domain) name.” I wanted a small corner of the internet to be my own digital collage. When I think about the conventional wisdom for a newsletter, it’s often something like “Find your niche” or “Define an audience.” Good advice no doubt, but one that I find hard to follow. Because I don’t know really what my niche would be considered. I much more prefer Jason Kottke’s description of his long-running blog:

Frequent topics of interest among the 26,000+ posts include art, technology, science, visual culture, design, music, cities, food, architecture, sports, endless nonsense, and carefully curated current events, all of it lightly contextualized. Basically, it’s the world’s complete knowledge, relentlessly filtered through my particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.

Kottke’s longevity has removed a lot of those concerns for him, and it’s made the rest of us mere imitators. But I love the “relentlessly filtered through my particular worldview” point. It’s such a good description of how he found his “niche,” which is just to say he found a way to share his interests with the rest of the internet and they found it interesting, too.

That’s my hope with both the newsletter and website. I hope they serve as snapshots in time of what I found interesting at a given time. I hope the act of curation, in both places, gives you a sense of the world “filtered through my particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.” Mostly, it just reminds me what a treat it is to have people who read this thing at all, and because I too infrequently express my appreciation, let me take this chance to say a hearty thank you.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. loved this righteously indignant newsletter post by Edward Zitron about the enshittification of the internet in general and Google Search, in particular. Much like the above articles on Gmail, I felt a reflexive impulse to jettison many of these platforms and services from my life after the story. If nothing else, it made me want to prioritize my website and this newsletter as my own little corner of a rapidly worsening internet. Something independent to me, something curated by me and ultimately for me, in hopes that maybe somebody else out there might get some enjoyment out of some of the same things I enjoy.
  2. Much of Edward Zitron essay above about how bad the internet focused on the pivot to AI, and it pairs nicely with this one from The New Republic captures a lot of my feelings about AI when it comes to writing. For all the focus on how AI-generated content might affect all of us as readers, this piece looks at why it’s so unnerving for those of us who are writers. “Here, at last, is the grisly crux: that AI threatens to ruin for us—for many more of us than we might suppose—not the benefits of reading but those of writing.”
  3. Sally Jenkins, like her father, Dan, is a masterful storyteller. She brings her talents to an overlooked sport that reminded me of my time in Wyoming: professional bull riding. I’d never heard of J.B. Mauney, but apparently he was as bad-ass as a human can be when it comes to riding bulls. But a serious fall ended his career, and then he provided a home for the bull that bucked him. I was reminded of Wyoming because rodeo is a way of life there, but even more specifically, the event that ended his career was in Lewiston, Idaho, where a talented photographer, August Frank, from my Wyoming newspaper ended up shortly before I arrived. I never knew him as a colleague, but I was treated to his talents from stills posted around the newsroom. He was photographing the event when Mauney was injured, and The Washington Post story featured his photo of that fateful moment.
  4. This Texas Monthly piece feels like an honest representation of the writer’s entire process with this story. It begins with suspicion. A random-seeming billboard crops up outside a small Texas town with what amounts to a giant personal ad. “Lonely male can relocate Sweetwater. Seeks female marriage minded. Enjoy karaoke.” The lack of punctuation may distract for a minute, but you’ll soon fall into the cadence that the eligible bachelor hoped you’d find to know all you need to know about him. There’s a phone number and an email address. The author was clearly prepared for the possibility that it was a giant hoax. But in the story, it suddenly shifts, the suspicion falls away, and it’s just a sweet story of one man’s attempt to find love and return to Texas.
  5. Here’s another quirky story, this one from Garden and Gun.You’ve no doubt heard of the Kentucky Derby, but have you heard of the Ken-Ducky Derby? If not, here’s what you’re missing: 50,000 rubber ducks will be dropped into the Ohio River, five miles north of the famed Churchill Downs, in their own race down the stretch “to eternal glory,” writer Justin Heckert wrote. (Heckert’s an all-time nice guy; I talked to him about his G&G story on the Gatlinburg, TN, fire years ago for a grad school project. He’s a proud Mizzou alum.) The rubber duck race raised money for Harbor House in Louisville. I just really enjoyed this short piece, especially after my first trip to Louisville last year gave me some appreciation for the place.
  6. Breaking news: Things are happening in space. I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it either. Back in November, NASA stopped receiving data from Voyager 1, the spacecraft that launched almost 50 years ago and became the first man-made to pass the heliopause and enter interstellar space. But NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were able to fix the issue, and after five moths of no information about the craft’s health, transmissions have resumed. These changes to the code had to travel more than 15 billion miles to reach Voyager 1, and the signal transmission takes almost an entire day to reach it (22.5 hours, traveling at the speed of light). It’s simply incredible all the way around. You can read the update from NASA here  NASA’s Voyager 1 Resumes Sending Engineering Updates to Earth and The New York Times podcast Hard Fork had an interview with one of the engineers.  Bonus space-adjacent story: He missed a chance to be the first Black astronaut. Now, at 90, he's going into space | NPR
  7. Now for stories on decidedly less impressive tech but more consequential to our everyday lives than Voyager 1: Gmail. Google email service turns 20 years old this month. Two somewhat different takes on it caught my attention. First is a piece from Ezra Klein in which he announces his breakup with Gmail and his reasoning. A line that stuck with me, based on the large amount of storage that made Gmail such an advancement 20 years ago: “I have stored everything and saved nothing.” Like the photos on our phone which we revisit too infrequently or never print out, backlogs of emails, though easily accessible, are never cherished because we know they’ll always be searchable. On the other hand, there’s Intelligencer’s piece on how Gmail became our diary, in which they asked writers to revisit the archives of their Gmail accounts. In alternate moments, the two stories made me want to pick up pen and stationery and send old-fashioned handwritten notes to friends and family, ditch Gmail as my email of choice for personal correspondence, and revisit my own archives.
  8. George Packer’s recent piece in The Atlantic provided what I thought to be a pretty clear-eyed overview of the current student protests at elite universities and now state universities as a result of the decline of the concept of a liberal university, a concept he defines as thusly: “A university isn’t a state—it can’t simply impose its rules with force. It’s a special kind of community whose legitimacy depends on mutual recognition in a spirit of reason, openness, and tolerance.”
  9. I was a late convert to the joys of Top Chef, which either coincided with my obsession with cooking and/or inspired it in the first place. I’ve almost caught up to the current seasons, which is patently obscene TV-viewing behavior, I concede, but it’s just. so. watchable. And a lot of that was due to Padma Lakshmi, not just because she’s absolutely stunning but because she mixes warmth with worldliness in her comments to the competitors. But then, sadly, she left the show to pursue other creative pursuits, one of which appears to be stand-up comedy. This New Yorker profile profile showsshows off just how much she loves the world of comedy.
  10. One man for whom the act of writing is alive and well is director Quentin Tarantino. But The Movie Critic, his announced forthcoming project, is now dead in the water. Not for any other reason that Tarantino simply isn’t happy with it, has grown interested in other projects. The film was to be set in the 1970s and follow a writer who was working for a porno magazine, though there was talk of the script having evolved into a sort of sequel to 2019’s hit Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, with Brad Pitt reprising his role as stuntman Cliff Booth.The Hollywood Reporter tried to piece together what happened with a buzzy film that was rumored to have big stars attached and might have possibly been Tarantino’s last film, based on his self-imposed 10-film limit.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.

Best Podcast Episode I've Heard In a While and Next Book I'll Be Buying

Your Crying Guys

To Cancel or Not To Cancel...My Streaming Services, That Is

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

4/23: THE GRANDMASTER (Criterion Channel); DEAL OF THE CENTURY (Criterion Channel)
4/24: Top Chef, S20 (Peacock)
4/25: Shogun (Hulu); Penguin Town (3)(Netflix)
4/26: Survivor, S46 (Paramount+); Top Chef, S20 (2) (Peacock)
4/27: Top Chef, S20 (Peacock); CHALLENGERS (theater); 14 PEAKS: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE (Netflix); BABY DRIVER*(Netflix)
4/28: Top Chef, S20 (4) (Peacock); The Sympathizer (2) (Max); MONKEY MAN (theater)