Our sneakerhead future
Read to the end for a good thread about Tilda Swinton
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The IRL Leaderboards Are Coming
Earlier this week, Brian Moore, the same technologist behind the “don’t touch your face” COVID site, put out a video for what he’s calling hypetags. They’re a screen that auto-updates a shoe’s value from their listing on streetwear selling platform StockX. Moore’s projects are always a clever mix of commentary and viral stunt and I suspect hypetags are similarly cheeky.
I came across Moore’s video after it was tweeted by Nice Kicks, a sneakerhead community and media brand with over a million followers on Twitter. Unfortunately, stripped of any hint that this might be a goof, the reactions on Twitter were pretty intense. I was even baited by the video, writing, “We’ve reached such an absurd era of late stage capitalism that the expensive goods that wealthy people are buying are no longer recognizable to the average person as expensive, thus forcing wealthy people to invest in more and more elaborate ways of conveying their expensiveness.”
Boy, I am straight-up not a fun person on Twitter.
As silly and, honestly, cool as Moore’s hypetags idea is, I do think it exposes something really interesting about where online/offline culture is at the moment. The idea of an auto-updating price tag for collector’s items feels increasingly less ridiculous the more online culture becomes our default.
Before the pandemic, though real life was routinely interrupted by viral content (“Gangnam Style,” internet famous animals, flash mobs, Supreme merch drops, YouTuber conventions, etc.), there was the understanding that the offline world was the dominant space. Linear TV, Hollywood movies, cable news, radio monopolies, and newspapers (lol) determined what was popular with brief weird intervals where we’d all talk about the internet. This status quo has been eroding for years — late night American talk shows now essentially make YouTube clips with millionaire-dollar budgets and US radio stations are owned by one company that is a glorified Spotify playlist curator — but the pandemic really broke things.
The offline world lost the last thing it could really claim it could consistently provide over the online world: production values. Stephen Colbert was suddenly monologuing from his bathtub with Air Pods and our favorite musicians were recording YouTube videos in their bedrooms. And, so, over the course of 2021, we’ve been reckoning with what it actually means to live in an online-first world now.
Mass demonstrations of what I’ve been calling “parasocial violence” have been breaking out across the country — the Jan. 6 insurrection, Adrian’s Kickback, QAnon supporters camping out in Texas, the GameStop pump, Elon Musk’s dogecoin market crash, the Josh fight, Travis Scott’s Astroworld. Physical spaces are now feeling the tangible effects of viral traffic. What used to be reserved for Instagrammable walls has now become a global phenomenon. Things irl no longer make sense without some kind of online context. This is a new and dizzying idea. Earlier this year, I had to draw out on a napkin how the blockchain worked so I could explain to my mom what an NFT was and why Tom Brady was selling them.
I suspect the trend that began this year will continue into 2022, as we pull more of online culture into our offline lives. This is the same bet that Mark Zuckerberg is making with the Meta rebrand. We’re in a transitionary phase and struggling to merge what we like (or are addicted to) about being on the internet with what we want to do outside in-between COVID variant waves.
During NFT.NYC a few weeks ago, fans of the NFT line Bored Ape Yacht Club were buying hoodies to show off that they owned Bored Ape NFTs. This is an inherently ridiculous idea, but solutions like this will become more necessary as we impart more value on digital assets and, more importantly, digital clout.
To take us back to Moore’s hypetags for sneakerheads, I don’t think we’re super far away from similar, serious ideas about how to display some kind of online leaderboard via a wearable or portable device. There’s also another piece of this that I find interesting, as well. As the internet becomes more dominant culturally, its ability to create increasingly niche subcultures will only become more pronounced.
There’s a really good New Yorker feature on science fiction author William Gibson I come back to a lot, which connects the idea of an expanding social web with the Japanese concept of “otaku,” or obsessive fan:
The Web, he saw, allowed everyone everywhere to develop the same otaku obsessions—with television, coffee, sneakers, guns. The mere possibility of such knowledge lay like a scrim over the world. A physical object was also a search term: an espresso wasn’t just an espresso; it was also Web pages about crema, fair trade, roasting techniques, varieties of beans. Things were texts; reality had been augmented. Brand strategists revised the knowledge around objects to make them more desirable, and companies, places, Presidents, wars, and people could be advantageously rebranded, as though the world itself could be reprogrammed. It seemed to Gibson that this constant reprogramming, which had become a major driver of economic life, was imbuing the present with a feeling—something like fatigue, or jet lag, or loss.
With this in mind, Moore’s hypetags are a way to not only display some kind of digital value, but also a way to signify that you’re part of a particular online rabbit hole — in this case, buying sneakers you can only wear inside for fear of getting them dirty.
For most of my life, there has been a deep allergy to trying to express some kind of signifier of digital clout offline. For most of my 20s, it was deeply, deeply uncool to go internet meetups and, if you did find yourself at one, there was a sense that you should never take them seriously. Anyone who thought the internet was somehow real or valuable should be distrusted and ridiculed. And based on the violently angry Twitter reactions to Moore’s hypetags idea, that is still sort of true. But it’s being challenged more and more and I suspect we are not far away from it completely going out of fashion.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad, I have no idea. But I would say it is worth thinking about everything we do online and begin to think about how that would manifest in real life. Did anyone else just get suddenly very nervous?
How Big Is Twitter Actually?
I’m kind of obsessed with getting a clear idea of exactly how many people are on Twitter and what they’re actually doing. I have misguided dreams of an emperor’s got no clothes on moment where we all realize that there are literally only like 100 extremely unstable people on Twitter and we finally let the site become irrelevant. On Monday, I wrote that Twitter was not even in the top five most used social networks for Gen Z and mused that it’s possible that we’re seeing a generational shift finally send Twitter to the great big trash can in the cloud alongside Myspace and Friendster.
Well, some research from Pew was released this week that shines an even brighter light on exactly who is on Twitter. A little over 20% of Americans use the platform, but a quarter of those users produce 97% of the content. I think I’m good enough at math to explain this. That means the majority of what we think of as “Twitter” is actually just the incessant ranting of around 19 million people. But wait, it gets weirder:
From June 12 to Sept. 12, 2021, original posts comprised just 14% of tweets from the top quarter of U.S. adults on Twitter by tweet volume. The vast majority of posts produced by this group were either retweets (49% of the total) or replies to other users (33%).
Posts from this group also receive little engagement from other users in the form of likes or retweets. Despite producing 65 tweets of any type per month on average during the period under observation, U.S. adults in the top 25% of users based on tweet volume received an average of just 37 likes and one retweet per month.
The majority of Twitter at the moment is either retweets, completely unengaged with content, or replies. That’s actually crazy if you think about it. Not only is Twitter the tip of the iceberg of the internet, the Twitter that most users are actually seeing is the tip of the tip of tip of the iceberg.
Though, Twitter is currently being used by the country of Ukraine to meme their way through an impending invasion of Russia, so who is to say if it’s a good or bad indication of what’s going on in the world.
How A TikTok Song Becomes A Single
TikTok researcher Alice Ophelia has a fascinating thread about TikTok’s newest hit, “abcdefu” by the user @gaylecantspell. The song was recorded in (seemingly) a bathroom and posted back in July after one of @gaylecantspell’s followers asked her if she could write a breakup song using the alphabet. It’s “a-b-c-d-e f— u,” get it? It’s a good song and it’s unsurprising it’s done so well on TikTok. In March, I described the Gen Z mall emo resurgence as “TikTokcore,” but it seems like the actual sound of the platform is closer to Taylor Swift’s instrumentals with Paramore’s lyrics.
According to Ophelia’s thread, “abcdefu” really blew up when a studio version was released a few months later. The climbed Spotify chart and then inspired a minor meme on TikTok where young girls were breaking plates and bowls to the song. Which rules. By November, @gaylecantspell, who is now going by GAYLE, had her song the radio.
If I had to distill any big takeaway here I’d say that it’s just insane how fast this is all moving now. What’s even crazier is that I hadn’t actually heard the song until I came across Ophelia’s thread. I actually had a check a few times to make sure it was real. The video for the song, which was released in August, has 19 million views. I suppose it’s not totally surprising that I haven’t heard of the song, I’m a 32-year-old man, but, I mean, I do spend all day every day online.
I guess there was a feeling 10 years ago that a viral hit would feel like a viral hit. But now that same velocity is being applied to everything. Everything bubbles up out of a platform and spreads, even if it’s something that just becomes a minor radio hit. Weird! But very cool.
The Actual Business Cost Of YouTube Demonetization
Totally Not Mark, real name Mark Fitzpatrick, is an anime YouTuber with over 600,000 subscribers and a video library going back years at this point. He specializes in anime and manga reviews and recently 150 copyright claims were made against his channel by one company, Toei Animation. If you aren’t familiar with Toei, they’re a huge anime studio. Some of their titles include One Piece, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon. Even crazier, he says in his video that Toei has actually worked with him before to promote their stuff.
As Kotaku points out, what’s happening here may come down to the differences between Japanese and American copyright law. There is no fair use for Japanese copyright. In fact, there are special copyright provisions in Japan against modifying someone else’s intellectual property. I’ve experienced this first hand. I spent some time working in Tokyo and Japanese copyright law is so strict that digital publishers have to avoid even using things like animated GIFs most of the time.
Because of how appeals to copyright claims work on YouTube, Fitzpatrick can only appeal one video at a time. Based on his math, it would take him 37 years to appeal all the videos that Toei has flagged.
It’s All Kicking Off On Wood Twitter
Saurabh Sharma, the president of conservative think tank American Movement, posted an incredibly funny tweet earlier this week. If you can’t tell from the crop, it’s two cut pieces of wood, one labeled “2018” and one labeled “1918,” with the caption, “this is what they took for you.” It’s a riff on conservative memes that show something from the past and claim that the new worse version is because of the left and not, you know, unregulated monopolies.
What’s especially funny about this tweet is if you click in and read the replies, it’s full of people who are extremely passionated about wood. Here’s a sampling:
“Bro, the plank from 1918 came out of virgin long leaf pine. That shit is pretty much extinct. Modern pine isn't near as strong but still not terrible. The board on top is hemlock, much worse than modern pine.”
“Damn, if only I could be illiterate and malnourished in a cabin made out of SLIGHTLY NICER WOOD.”
“Thats 2 different woods. The top is a fast growing conifer commonly called whitewood. I believe its hemlock. Or its long leaf or Loblolly pine.
The bottom is douglas fir. Its also commonly called red pine. You can still buy it.”
“Not me, I'm a software developer”
A Good Tweet
New AI Art Generator Dropped
Wombo is a new AI art project. You feed it keywords and it spits out a piece of art. Wombo also lets you choose a style for the AI to create art in. The image above is “Garbage Day” on the “dark fantasy” setting. It’s cool. I could totally see this as a Magic card that cost one black mana and acts as an instant to inflict -1/-1 to one target creature. You can mess around with Wombo here.
Also, here’s a really good thread about the biases that Wombo’s genre settings might be exposing via AI:
The King’s Hand Turns One
My friend Ellie reminded me that the King’s Hand turns one today. If you’ve never seen it, congratulations and, also, I’m sorry.
The Origin Of The Orb Wizard
Chances are, at this point, you’ve seen this wizard bouncing around the internet. If you haven’t, you can check out the Know Your Meme page here. I have nothing to back this up, but my personal hunch is that when crypto bros started talking about tungsten cubes last month, users outside of that community thought the general idea was funny, but, obviously, didn’t want to be associated with crypto people, so they came up with their own version — this wizard “pondering an orb.” idk just a theory I’m working on!
Anyways, a few users in the last few days have been able to track down where this image actually came from. It’s the cover of a book titled, A Spy In Isengard, written by Terry K. Amthor and published by Iron Crown Enterprises in 1988. The book was part of the Middle-earth Quest, which were Lord Of The Rings tabletop games. So who is the wizard pondering the orb? Well, here’s the synopsis for A Spy In Isengard:
Since your apprenticeship began, you have worked for the powerful and revered wizard, Saruman the White. But of late, you have grown troubled by what you see and hear within his mighty fortress of Isengard. Orcs and wild men gather inside. You have seen Saruman poised over the great seeing stone exulting over scenes of battle. Has Saruman surrendered his will to the evil Sauron, Lord of the Rings? Can you warn the White Council before all is lost? YOU control your destiny in this intriguing first gamebook of the MIDDLE-EARTH QUEST series!
That’s right! It’s Saruman. I think that’s cool, right? I have admittedly never read or seen any of the Lord Of Rings things. Anyways, here’s a wildly cursed thing that was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by Lucas:
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good thread about Tilda Swinton.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***