My Internet: Amanda Hess
The writer loves the whole discourse about babies on planes.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large at The New York Times, where she covers pop and internet culture. She is currently writing her first book, a work of memoir and cultural criticism about her relationship with the internet and the digital identity crisis she experienced as a new mother under the influence of popular technologies. It will be published by Doubleday.
Amanda has seen her For You page become a kaleidoscope of maternal anxiety, stays on LinkedIn because Dana Carvey’s brother once messaged her there, and fantasizes about an AI stealing her job and then composing generic uplifting movie-trailer music to play as she embarks on a journey to discover “the real her.” —Nick
Subscribe to Embedded, a kaleidoscope of internet anxiety.
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
AMANDA HESS: I love the whole discourse about babies on planes. It has everything: resentment of kids; surveillance of mothers; desperation for the miserable experience of air travel to represent freedom and luxury; unceasing screaming; no escape. So when a question emerged about whether a solo traveler should be expected to move seats on a plane so that a parent could sit next to their kids, I was excited by the deranged possibilities for the debate. One solo traveler tweeted, “my life is not expendable for your own convenience bc you have kids and i don’t. absolutely the fuck not.” I laughed at this response: “You don't have to move but why are you acting like this is life or death? It’s a plane either everyone is going to live or everyone is going to die.”
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
AMANDA HESS: I’m writing a book about technology, pregnancy and motherhood, so my feed has turned into a kaleidoscope of maternal anxiety and control. Every video is like a (spins wheel) neutral decor influencer practicing (spins wheel) conscious booger extraction while storytelling her (spins wheel) traumatic baby monitor experience.
EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
AMANDA HESS: I downgraded my Twitter use in 2020, when I got upset about a pointless tweet and realized that my baby was staring right at me, watching me be mad online. Now most of my tweets are “congratulations!” (if someone I follow experiences a life event), “this is tonight!” (if there’s a thing tonight), or “solidarity” (if a union is up to something). Twitter is obviously much worse than it used to be, but I mentally checked out a long time ago. I will quit once people stop experiencing life events and having things tonight, or when the unions win.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
AMANDA HESS: I’ve probably watched hundreds of tutorials on curling or flat-ironing hair using various methods and tools. My hair is half wavy and half straight, with textures distributed in seemingly random chunks across my head. At this point, watching yet another video will not fix my hair, which is a contradiction that can never be fully resolved. I watch the video to spend a few minutes existing in a kind of fantasy world where my hair could make sense if I just master a new wrist rotation.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
AMANDA HESS: Charo.
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
AMANDA HESS: Kevin Durant. I don’t follow basketball. I don’t know where Kevin Durant plays basketball. I don’t know how he plays basketball. I don’t care. I love him. Everything he posts is tender. Thin skin is an underrated quality for a celebrity, I think. If I’m following a famous person, I want to be able to see their nerve endings. As Kevin Durant posted in 2021, “There’s No relax champ. No relax when I’m on Twitter. I’m on 10 until the second I close the app. You relax!!” You relax.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
AMANDA HESS: News-news I generally get from The New York Times, where I work. But since I’ve been on parental leave and book leave this year, I have received most of my news verbally through another person, usually my husband. He’ll be like, “A submersible disappeared on its way to the Titanic …” or “The Wagner Group is advancing on Moscow …”
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
publishes my favorite things about the internet. The Small Bow publishes my favorite things not about the internet.
EMBEDDED: How has using LinkedIn benefitted you, if at all?
AMANDA HESS: I don’t want to know where any person went to college—I learn such information against my will—so I don’t spend time on LinkedIn. But a few years ago, I wrote an article about my love and admiration for Garth from Wayne’s World, who Dana Carvey has said is based on his brother. Dana Carvey’s brother read it and messaged me to say he appreciated the article … on LinkedIn. So now I have to be on there forever, just in case.
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
AMANDA HESS: I was internet stalking someone on Pinterest last week. Instagram can tell you what somebody’s hair looks like, but only Pinterest can tell you what they wished their hair looked like.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Discord, Slack, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
AMANDA HESS: I go to Reddit when I want to bathe my brain in a thrashing sea of opinion. After I had kids, I started lurking on all the childfree and antinatalist subs. I would be breastfeeding my baby, supporting his head with one hand and paging through posts about why he should have never been born with the other. I would debate the posts in my mind, riding waves of self-righteousness and self-doubt and horror and empathy and pity. I think I was trying to resolve my own confusion around becoming a parent and what it meant. I could absorb a bunch of content about how I was a villain, and then I could assure myself, these people are wrong, and it’s actually totally normal and good that I brought two full human beings into existence!! …………… right??
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI chatbots and text and art generators? What most concerns you?
AMANDA HESS: The only excitement I get out of AI is this death-drive part of me that (New York Times don’t read this) imagines a robot stealing my job, freeing me from writing my articles and forcing me to do something else with my life. The AI could compose some generic uplifting movie-trailer music for me as I embark on my journey to discover “the real me.” The concern is that I actually lose my job to a robot.
EMBEDDED: Are you currently playing any games on your computer or phone?
AMANDA HESS: I used to have a Candy Crush problem. I would feed it like a slot machine, wandering its anesthetizing map for hours while the Candy Crush voiceover guy assured me it was tasty and delicious and divine. Ah, I miss him. I had to take it off my phone. About once a week I feel the itch to move some little icons around my little screen so I Google “Tetris” and play a round in my browser.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
AMANDA HESS: I use the 👹 a lot. It’s for when I’m silently observing something with obsessive interest and delight, like a super messy Twitter thread or my kids.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
AMANDA HESS: This Instagram account that styles Furbys like they’re elderly toys living in a cozy hospice.