WE HAVE SEEN THE INTERNET AND IT IS US
Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz has reported on the furthest corners of the Web like no one else, from its glorious peaks, to its darkest dankest cesspools. She has explained internet hoaxes (the “boat jumping challenge” isn’t real, concerned parents!), far-right extremism on social platforms, and AI Chatbot girlfriends that charge a dollar a minute.
In Lorenz’s excellent new book, Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence and Power on the Internet, she explores the social history of the Internet and how it has changed our views of power structures, consumption, and humanity through vignettes about mommy bloggers, teen influencers, and niche online communities. But being the Ernest Shackleton of the Internet doesn’t come without costs –and well, eye strain. So we asked Lorenz how she survives the wilds of Reddit, TikTok, and other digital wilds with her sanity intact:
How do you maintain your own mental health when you have to spend a lot of time in the garbage dump corners of the web?
I have very strong boundaries around what I share and don't share on the internet. I don't share anything related to my personal or offline life online, and I think it helps me separate things mentally. Especially when people are coming at me or hating on me, I recognize that they've just built me into a character on the internet and they're mad at that character. I also try to spend time in positive spaces online, not just the toxic ones I'm on for work.
The internet also produces wonder and delight occasionally. What's your favorite web culture phenomenon, or meme that you've seen recently?
I love 2girls1bottl3 on TikTok. It's two girls called Mixie and Munchie where they mix drinks and prepare snacks in kind of an ASMR way. There's something about their videos that are so captivating and this great piece on them just came out yesterday.
Would everyone be healthier and happier if we all just left social media?
I don't think logging off is the answer, but I do think that our current social media landscape is corrosive and bad. I think it's fine to spend 24/7 online, as long as you're spending it in productive ways and positive communities. I'd love to see more indie social networks and private spaces online that aren't profit driven.
How do you think the internet has changed the nature of parasocial relationships between fans and artists?
I think before the internet it was extremely difficult to develop a true parasocial relationship with an artist or personality because you didn't have access to enough information about their lives. Now people don't just develop parasocial relationships with famous people, they also develop them around average people.
Besides your incredible new book, what's your favorite thing that you've written while on the Internet culture beat?
I wrote this story about the rise of the "Nimcel" aka "niche internet micro celebrity" a year ago, but it's one of my favorite stories because it speaks to this changing nature of fame and micro fame that more and more people have in this hyper connected world, and how people have developed silly terms and language to try to talk about it.
WATCHING THE WEB
No one explores potential threats to humanity quite like Werner Herzog. Bears! Meteorites! Elon Musk? Herzog’s 2016 documentary, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, chronicles the Internet’s origin story and subsequent developments in AI, peppering footage with skeptical commentary, genuine curiosity and the occasional ominous suggestion that the thing we’re examining might yet destroy us. It’s also an early view of Elon Musk’s space-related ambitions, before Musk himself launched himself into the far right nether-regions of social media and littered a Tesla into a different part of the solar system.
A more recent companion piece is actor and director Alex Winter’s documentary The YouTube Effect, which premiered at the Tribeca Festival in 2022. Narrower in focus, it examines the ways in which the world’s biggest video platform, owned by the world’s biggest search engine, has changed our understanding of reality. YouTube is a beloved purveyor of cute animal videos and DIY kitchen renovation instructionals; it’s also responsible for violence, disinformation and radicalization. Winter’s documentary is a warning about what YouTube’s algorithms, which favor provocation, are doing to society.
WANT IS THE SOUND THE SOUL MAKES
Every product is independently selected by editors. Items you buy through our links may earn us a commission.
Obviously it’s Taylor Lorenz’s Extremely Online–the one you read about approximately 200 words ago. Why? Because it’s not just informative, it’s highly entertaining. If you are not extremely online yourself, it’s also a thorough survey of everything you need to know the next time you’re on the receiving end of a Fw: FW: fw: fw. RE: fw: email about a meme you didn’t know existed, or a 13-year-old in your orbit is spouting nuggets of wisdom gleaned from a professional video game player on Twitch.
We’ve never thought of ourselves as fancy soap people, or imagined that exquisitely-scented soap could alleviate anxiety, until a beautiful woman basically forced us to buy this exquisite soap from Lisbon’s Claus Porto. Start the morning with your phone face-down, and your true face lathered in their soothing red poppy (they make much stronger stuff from poppies, you know) or eucalyptus, or any of their soaps, and take the bliss with you out into the day. They’ve been doing this for 133 years, and practice makes perfect.
This exquisite Ahi Tuna from Sizzlefish. Coat with sesame seeds. Sear for two minutes on each side. Cut against the gain. Serve with good wasabi and soy sauce. Pair with (trust us) a crisp Albariño in these extraordinary Waterford glasses (we know they say they’re just for red; live; break the rules) and an unnaturally warm autumn night. Trust us, love will find you.
This very affordable beauty from Le Creuset. Certain large, faceless online retailers may try to rip off the French original. But how can something that exploits almost its entire supply and distribution chains ever be truly beautiful? It cannot. Support European social justice and truly exquisite design. Buy from the source.
September means back to work, and back to school; halogen-lit lands where the rose never flows. This is why we like stress–relieving vitamins for men and women, from GNC. Come for the amino acids and B-vitamins, stay for…the placebo effect. Or do it the other way around. Honestly? It’s just nice to take a pill in the morning; trust us, everybody else is. This is the only multivitamin recommendation that has ever ended in a quote from Don DeLillo: 'Some people don't believe in God but they color eggs at Easter just to change the pattern of their days.'
Some Gospel for the Road
“There are certain things I am clueless about as far as the new technologies. I see these people in front of these computers all day and I don't know what they are doing.”
- Robert De Niro