The Internet and Me

Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror, Big Tech, and What-To-Watch Recommendations

At times, I feel dislodged from my generation. Those who know me well have heard me express doubts or downright hostility toward modern life on the internet. Not the terrible corners of the 8chan, but the now-vanilla commonalities of social media. It’s disheartening to be out in public for a meal with a friend, look around and see nearly the entirety of the restaurant on their phones. It’s even more disheartening that when my friend gets up to use the restroom, I have to fight the urge to reflexively get out my phone to pass the time.

Perhaps most bothersome is the disconnect and disadvantage I feel this mindset puts me at when I consider that I want to be in the world of journalism. There are practical reasons to seek out social media as a journalist, with “It’s where the eyeballs are” being the easiest to understand and hardest to argue against. But it still doesn’t feel good. I felt kinship in that reaction when I devoured Jia Tolentino’s new collection of essays, Trick Mirror, via audiobook. I wrote a brief review of the experience, and I’d be honored if you read. (But I’ll spoil it for you here: It was amazing.)

Her first essay is called “The I in the Internet,” and it’s a wide-ranging analysis of the good and the bad and the beautiful and the ugly. One of the most resonant passages compares our use of social media to lab rats trained to push a button to receive a treat. If the results are constant, either every push gives food or every push fails to give food, the rats will bore of the exercise. But if the results are scattered and random – some pushes reward, some pushes do not – the rats will compulsively keep pushing. Even in my skepticism of social media, I recognize this in myself. Sometimes a tweet gets a modest response, and it feels electric every single time a new notification comes in. Other times, a tweet echoes out into the void, and the silence is so deafening that I wonder if I’m actually Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense and whether anyone can really see me at all.

That reality raises a significant point: why bother at all? This newsletter can and will at times be subject to those very same highs and lows. Tolentino addresses this in the essay. She quotes Jason Kottke, long a fixture of the internet and whose website is a clear inspiration for what I’d like this newsletter to be, said:

Why don’t I just write my thoughts down in private? Somehow, that seems strange to me though. The web is the place for you to express your thoughts and feelings and such. To put those things elsewhere seems absurd.

While Tolentino’s essay reminds that the internet still contains a multitude of terribleness, I choose to take inspiration from the early days of the internet, the time by which Tolentino was shaped, a time when the hope and optimism and wonder of the tool far outweighed any potential negatives.

WHILE YOU’RE AT IT:

There’s been a ton of news this week surrounding Big Tech. Here’s a rundown of the potential legal troubles facing Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon right now, brilliantly presented by The New York Times.

Bad news for these companies is nothing new. If you missed it, take some time to read the thoroughly reported Wired tick-tock of a turbulent 15 months at Facebook. While on a Wired tick-tock kick, read last month’s investigation into Google’s internal troublesreaching back three years. Pay special attention to the beauty and ingenuity of Wired’s digital presentation of these stories; they're simply some of the best in the business.

Oh, and don’t forget Uber. Things haven’t been great over there either. Mike Isaac of The New York Times talks about Uber’s business on The Daily. Isaac just released a book, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, and talked about his career and big tech reporting on a great episode of the Longform podcast.

But all is not terrible, right? Remember all the good things these companies brought us? For instance, next week, Apple will unveil some of its newest products. That’s always fun, even if the tech is so-so.

Facebook gave us the inspiration for The Social Network, one of the greatest movies of the decade. If you’re a user of Apple Movies, you can buy it right now for $12.99.

  • Michael Tucker runs one of my favorite YouTube channels, Lessons from the Screenplay, and he breaks down the structure of The Social Network.
  • Scott Myers, on his excellent site Go Into the Story, gleaned five lessons we can take away from Sorkin’s script, which won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Here’s Lesson One.

WHAT TO WATCH

I know I’m late to the game, but Schitt’s Creek is hilarious. If you’re not watching, Netflix will take care of that for you.

Over on Hulu, there are so many episodes of Scrubs that when I read the episode descriptions, I sometimes can’t remember if I’ve watched it or not. Easiest way to fix that is simply to rewatch it, and it doesn’t disappoint, with it’s surrealist humor pausing every now and then just long enough to punch you in the gut with some insight on life, love, family, friends, jobs, ambition, insecurity, and literally everything else you could possibly be dealing with. In appreciation of this, Shea Serrano over at the Ringer wrote a love letter to the show, and it’s worth a read.

It’s Sunday, and that means another episode of Succession on HBO. If you’re not watching this show, you’re missing out; it’s literally the best show on television right now, and it’s weekly release schedule gives you plenty of time to catch up with season 1 and the few episodes of season 2 thus far. The writing is superb, the character’s are deep and richly drawn, and the style and look of the show is impeccable.

To keep the weekly high from a Sunday night episode going just a little bit longer, check in with these excellent discussion podcasts on the show:

  • Number One Boys/The Watch: Chris Ryan and Jason Concepcion of the Ringer do a Sunday night after-show broadcast on the Ringer’s Twitter (called Number One Boys), and if you miss that, it’s usually repackaged as part of Ryan’s The Watch podcast. It’s two men clearly just reveling in the joy produced by the show, and it’s a lot of fun.
  • Slate Money: Succession: The Slate Money hosts are loving the finance-related material of the show, and it’s fun to hear the episodes reviewed by non-media critics.