My Internet: Adrienne LaFrance
The Atlantic's executive editor is team regular universe.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, where she has written extensively about Facebook—calling it “a doomsday machine” and “the largest autocracy on earth”—QAnon, and much more. (Full disclosure: Kate and I both work at The Atlantic.) Adrienne believes we are in the infancy of the democratization of publishing, watches the real-time commoditization of ASMR on TikTok Live, and is subscribed to approximately 7 trillion newsletters. —Nick
What's a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
Okay, this is not a meme in the traditional sense (or maybe it is, on some level) but ASMR videos have become so ridiculous and I want everyone to go look at them. They’re outrageously elaborate and derivative of one another. They all use the same props! And have the same bits! I cannot do them justice by trying to describe them but they are all alike and I find it to be so deeply hilarious. This flatness/sameness is clearly the outcome of the real-time commoditization of ASMR on TikTok Live, which is also just so weird and interesting. Seriously please go watch some of these things and then imagine aliens encountering our species for the first time through these videos, and imagine what they would think.
What type of videos do you watch on YouTube?
Music videos, conspiracy theories, vintage commercials, old standup comedy, and big-wave surfing competitions.
Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
I think the algorithm is confused by how old I am because I get nostalgia videos for multiple different generations, which I quite enjoy. Mostly my For You page is a mix of good vibes; pretty nature; charming babies; people claiming to be time travelers; people making elaborate salads that look easier to make than they actually are; this one guy who lives in the woods and talks about ice hockey and VHS tapes; and terrifying storm-chaser videos.
What do you use Instagram for?
To catalogue the beautiful trees in my life, mostly. I don’t use it that much.
Do you tweet? Why?
Most cynical answer: I tweet for the same reasons everyone tweets—excess ego, lack of self-restraint, and/or to promote things I care about. Least cynical answer: Because the internet is magic and it’s fun to share things with kind strangers, and to see how they respond. Actual answer: Somewhere in between.
Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
I got a lot of lovely responses to this one.
Who's the coolest person who follows you?
I have no idea! What is coolness even. I don’t pay attention to who follows me. (Sidenote: Has anybody already answered this question with “Taye Diggs”? I only like to make deep-cut internet jokes that are totally original.)
Who's someone more people should follow?
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
Where do you tend to get your news?
Literally everywhere. Lost-dog flyers on telephone poles, Telegram, back of a cereal box, eavesdropping, perusing FEC filings for fun, weird Google alerts, you name it.
What's one positive trend you see in media right now? What's one negative trend?
We’re still in the infancy of the democratization of publishing and the smartphone revolution. This is the only trend that matters.
What does "cancel culture" mean to you?
The term has been reduced to ideology and therefore has been rendered mostly meaningless. Too bad, because it’s actually complex and interesting.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
I subscribe to approximately 7 trillion newsletters.
Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
All of The Atlantic’s podcasts, of course. I also liked the recent Helen Keller episode of RadioLab. And their “worst year in history” episode. I remain obsessed with S-Town. I am a forever fan of Marc Maron’s podcast. I also like Mike Birbiglia’s podcast.
Do you use Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse? What for?
No, but I still have Clubhouse notifications turned on for some reason.
Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Around what age?
Only ever dabbled. But apparently as recently as April 2020, which is when my phone says this photo is from:
When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
Maybe 2013? I once made a Pinterest collection of old magazine covers I liked. I can’t remember ever going on since.
Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr? Why?
Vine, a little. One of the most surreal ways to measure the passage of time is to trace the change in video/production quality from early YouTube to Vine to TikTok. It’s wild how dramatically the technology advanced.
Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What's the most useful or entertaining one?
I use Reddit as a search function mostly. I’m in several weird Slacks! No Discord. I quit Facebook after I wrote this piece because I felt like a hypocrite, but I have a burner account for reporting.
Are you playing any games right now?
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. And I’ll play Super Mario Bros. 3 against anyone, anywhere, anytime.
What's something you might want to do in the metaverse? What's something you wouldn't want to do?
Team regular universe! But I guess I would want to visit a reconstructed version of a place that hasn’t existed for a long, long time. The Library of Alexandria comes to mind, or the original Penn Station. That could be cool. But I mostly just want to go outside.
What purpose do you see in NFTs?
Do you think Web3 will mean a better internet?
Maybe we can skip directly to Web4? In seriousness, the promise of a return to decentralized-internet values is extremely compelling for a bunch of reasons but it’s so so different than the modern web as we now know it and I’m skeptical about how we’d actually get from here to there. I do believe a better internet is possible.
Do any of your group chats have a name that you're willing to share? What's something that recently inspired debate in the chat?
What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
Either the heart-eyes or the smiling face surrounded by hearts. Also the sparkly pink heart.
What's a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
I made this playlist based on this Tom Nichols article and now I listen to it all the time.
Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
I am hopelessly devoted to Spotify. I also buy music on Apple. I haven’t bought a cassette tape since the 1990s. I wish I could remember the last CD I bought—probably circa 2005? I do buy records sometimes but not often.
If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?
What's your favorite non-social media app?
What's the most basic internet thing that you love?
All the people!
Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?
Is there a Kid Pix emulator?
Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?
I buy old books and magazines on eBay.
What's the last thing that brought you joy online?
Any time I see an exchange between people that is helpful and good—and it still happens all the time—is a reminder of why the internet is magic. The bad parts about the internet are loud and highly visible. But the goodness is everywhere. I love the web, and we are very lucky to have it.
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