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There would be no screen — only a locomotive
Read to the end for a TikTok that is absolutely haunting me
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Watching History Through A Feed
[Warning: Graphic content if you click through on this embed.]
I spent most of the weekend unable to do anything other than watch in surreal horror as my Twitter timeline documented the Taliban capturing Kabul. I’m not sure how I expected America’s withdrawal from the country to go — I was 10 when we first got there — but there is a hyper-reality to watching it all unfold in real-time via tweets. Clips of Taliban fighters chanting “death to America” and firing their machine guns into the air, photos of helicopters taking off from embassy rooftops, and videos of desperate crowds rushing Kabul’s airport swirled together in my feed in-and-around viral ephemera like random TikToks, relatable text posts, and discourse about representation in Disney’s The Owl House.
It is both vastly different, and, yet, oddly similar to watching 9/11 happen 20 years ago — senseless human tragedy playing out via cable news clips, scattered panicked reporting, and endless online speculation. And it’s incredible how the early internet behaviors that were built from watching 9/11 have now become the defining characteristics of the social web.
A few years ago, I discovered archived 9/11 threads from Something Awful. It’s a frozen snapshot of, in my opinion, the birth of the modern era of internet, with users attempting to crowdsource information in semi-real-time, mixed in-between memes and oddly prescient predictions about what would happen next.
As the first plane hit the World Trade Center, forums and message boards filled up with piecemeal updates from users around the world. In fact, science fiction author William Gibson told The New Yorker in 2019 that his experience watching 9/11 unfurl via a message board he used to buy wristwatches permanently altered his sense of the world. I come back to the quote a lot, but it’s worth visiting today.
“Someone on the East Coast posted, ‘Plane hit World Trade Center.’ I Googled it — there was nothing,” Gibson said. “I went to get some coffee. And when I came back there was a second post under the first: ‘Second plane hit. It wasn’t an accident.’ ” The attack rewrote our expectations. It made life instantly scarier. It also seemed to adjust the temporality of the world. From then on, events would move faster. There would be no screen — only a locomotive.”
Using Twitter right now has that same locomotive feeling. The videos from Kabul, the endless blathering from pundits, and some of the most idiotic and jaw-droppingly bad takes you could ever imagine create a wall of content that feels completely unreal, but also more real than real. Twenty years after Gibson watched the temporality of the world change, we’re now watching the ugly and chaotic end to the absolutely ridiculous War On Terror documented by the online machinery that was created by it.
This morning, I woke up to a timeline full of terrifying videos of Afghans trying to cling to the outside of planes leaving the country. As Marya Hannun, Afghanistan historian and post-doctoral fellow at Georgetown’s Center For Contemporary Arab Studies, noted this morning, “People falling from the sky — a tragic bookend to 9/11 and this absurd ‘War On Terror’ in which Afghan civilians have lost the most and continue to lose.”
What’s Going On With Jack Dorsey?
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey kicked off his weekend by sharing a link to a PDF of Murray Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State, which caused Rothbard’s name to start trending on the platform. If you’re not familiar with Anatomy of the State, it’s a central text for libertarianism and Rothbard is considered a central architect of anarcho-capitalism. Cool stuff!
Then, on Sunday, Dorsey tweeted the hashtag #wtfhappenedin1971. The hashtag is a popular meme in libertarian and crypto circles and refers to a conspiracy theory that basically the whole world went to shit in 1971 when President Nixon delinked the dollar from gold. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the gold standard and it’s been a big thing for cryptocurrency enthusiasts.
Honestly, though, it would be more surprising if the guy who runs the website that is rotting the socio-political centers of countries around the world WASN’T being red-pilled into an anarcho-capitalist.
Anyways, looking forward to see what Dorsey does next! Oh, also, last week, he tweeted a workaround he uses to fix the terrible algorithmic UI of Twitter? Weird stuff.
Yik Yak Has Re-Launched
The original Yik Yak app launched in 2013 and it was essentially an anonymous message board based on location data. Users would share messages, which would then be seen according to your proximity. It obviously immediately became a rats nest for bullying. It shut down in 2017 due to lack of popularity.
According to a post on the app’s website titled, “The Yak Is Back,” it’s now under a new ownership and they’re “committed to making Yik Yak a fun place free of bullying, threats, and all sort of negativity.” Apparently, the new version of the app has a system where if a post reaches -5 upvotes, it will be removed from the feed. It also has pretty strict community guidelines, though, of course, whether they’re enforced or not will remain to be seen.
Honestly, 2021 is probably a perfect time to bring Yik Yak back. It seems increasingly clear that the main trend in social technology is “going outside”. Any app that wants to succeed in a post-pandemic world (or at least the world during this current COVID wave) needs to have some kind of way to branch the online and the offline and Yik Yak, harassment and abuse aside, does exactly that.
We’ll probably know if Yik Yak catches on with Gen Z if it starts causing TikTok drama. That’s sort of how you know something’s a hit these days.
A Good Tweet
Let’s Talk About Micro-payments
Sam Lessin, an intern at The Information, and former VP of product for Facebook, tweeted out a really interesting essay on micro-payments this morning. According to Lessin, micro-payments are a terrible business model for journalism because they would create a bunch of garbage incentives and financial risks for journalists. I agree! But I’d say that micro-payments, in general, are bad for all online content. Whether it’s tap-dancing for bits on Twitch or mansplaining on Medium for claps, it seems like a lot of very low-value stuff gets made when you’re competing for immediate financial returns.
And when I interviewed Substack CEO Chris Best a few weeks ago, he said a similar thing actually:
With micro-payments, I think one of two things happens. Either you keep that decision pain pretty high. And it's like, “do you want to pay for this article?” How are you going to decide that? It's annoying and that the amount of decision pain dwarfs the amount of economic pain and so you're not making as much money as you could.
Or you end up doing the thing where you're like, “well, it’s a micro-payment, but you’re not actually going to have to decide to pay. We're actually going to automatically hook up your micro-payment to a distributor.” And then you do “claps” or you do something and it turns into payments. And then what you've done is you've just recreated the bad incentives.
The biggest advocates I’ve found for micro-payments are people working for or on publishing platforms outside of America. I’ve spoken to creators in places like Brazil and India that argue that if you’re trying to make money on the internet you’ve got two options: advertising or micro-payments. I’m not totally sure I’m sold on that argument and it seems like it’s largely based on the assumption that because micro-payments are big in China, they’ll be popular elsewhere. But the creator economy is still being figured out, especially outside the US, so maybe someone will figure out a version of micro-payments for content creation that doesn’t create absolute garbage.
If you’re curious about this stuff, I did come across a platform last year for primarily Indian creators that seems to be using micro-payments and WhatsApp integration. It’s called Scrollstack and I subscribe to their newsletter and keep an eye on what the community is publishing which, at least, on a surface level, it seems like good stuff.
Bouncing off of what I wrote above about Yik Yak, the post-COVID internet that’s currently taking shape is mobile-first and largely based around physical experiences and will have some kind direct monetization options built in. I think there is obviously a lot of subscription fatigue right now, but I’m not so sure micro-payments are the answer.
A Cool And Normal Tumblr Roleplaying Project
I learned about (at least) two Tumblr blogs that are currently roleplaying as CEOs. It’s extremely funny. One of them is called Johnathan A. Burnham and claims to be the CEO of Giantbulb Unlimited, which appears not to be a real person or a real company. The other blog is called Harold James MacArthur and doesn’t list a fake company that they’re CEO of. The blogs are also interacting with each other. Here’s a conversation they had in the notes of a post of furry art recently:
I think I found three other blogs that are part of this network. One is called William J. Robinson and it claims to be the CEO of COCH Enterprises, another is called Thomas Philip Russell and it doesn’t list any kind of fake company, and lastly, I found a blog called Mary Anne’s Candle Blog, which I think is part of this, as well? According to this pinned post, I think the candle blog is supposed to be run by the “wife” of Thomas Philip Russell.
Let me know if you’ve spotted any similar accounts!
There’s A Weird Spotify Playlist Subreddit
On Friday, I wrote about a fun weird Spotify playlist and a few readers sent me links to the weird Spotify playlist subreddit. Definitely recommend clicking over and checking it out if you’re a fan of this specific genre of internet content.
Someone Made A Netflix For In-Universe Fake Movies
This was sent to me by Garbage Day reader Erika. It’s a website called Nestflix and it catalogs fake movies and TV shows that exist inside of movies or TV shows. It doesn’t let you watch the clips, but it lays them all out like Netflix. It’s super fun to scroll around.