My Internet: Ben Smith
The New York Times media columnist's co-workers quarantined him on Slack.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, by Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Ben Smith, the scoop-getting New York Times media columnist who was previously the founding editor in chief of Buzzfeed News. Ben has also been “involved informally from the start with Bklyner, the local news site that the 50 percent of [Embedded’s] readers who live in Brooklyn should subscribe to,” and which his wife edits. He found his family’s lost dog through a neighborhood Facebook group, communicates with one of his children exclusively through Discord, and “left all the New York Times Slacks but one to avoid being seen as a narc.” —Nick
What's a recent meme that you like?
How It Started/How It's Going. I recently was looking at a copy of Breugel the Elder's "Tower of Babel," and my first thought was to wonder what the "How It Started" side of the meme should be. Maybe this tweet??
Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?
What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?
Handyman stuff, part of the vast body of incredibly useful and uninteresting YouTube.
Are there any influencers who you would be sad to see stop posting?
I'm going to wedge Gustavo Arellano into this category, because I couldn't find another place to put him and his mix of brilliance, irascibility, and genuine open-mindedness is so vanishingly rare on Twitter.
Do you ever tweet? Why?
Constantly, since 2009. It's the greatest global public forum in human history and an incredible joke machine. Also, obviously, has the capacity to make you crazy and distort your work, and I don't think I've found a great balance.
Which platform do you put the most effort into posting on?
Is there a podcast you're currently obsessed with? How and when do you usually listen?
This feels oddly revealing, but I've really been enjoying Max Linsky's interviews with septuagenarians. I listen to that on long drives. I also listen to the quirky, diverse feed aggregated by The Browser sometimes.
Do you have an opinion about Clubhouse?
It created some incredible spontaneous moments early on—Andrei Zakharov interviewing Putin's daughter has to be the all time best—but I haven't been on there in a couple of months.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What's your favorite?
So many! For professional purposes, in part, and I do think my open rates have been declining. I really loved Deez Links and was sad Delia gave it up for the Conde Nast gig. Today in Tabs, naturally. I read Ross Barkan and Harry Siegel about New York, and looking through my inbox I see I open Zeynep Tufekci, Matt Yglesias, and Heather Havrilesky's more often than the many other (also excellent) things I subscribe to.
Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr? Why?
I miss seeing people yell "Do It For The Vine" in my neighborhood before their friend jumps off a car or something, more than I miss the actual platform.
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence?
Are you regularly in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What are they about?
I use reddit for a mix of niche things (eg Geocaching) and all sorts of problem solving—my son recently pointed out to me that if you add the term "reddit" to any sort of "how do I" Google search, you get better results. Facebook for neighborhood groups, and was incredibly grateful when a neighbor found my dog and posted there—the single best use of the platform. One of my kids only communicates with me through Discord, so that's on my home screen, and I dip into Sidechannel there occasionally. I left all the New York Times Slacks but one to avoid being seen as a narc, and do enjoy that one which my colleagues generously set up to quarantine me.
Do you consider yourself part of any specific online communities?
A few—a certain generation of political reporters, I think, who feel, often wrongly, we've seen it all before. Everyone who ever worked at BuzzFeed.
Are you a gamer?
Not really. Occasionally play Fortnite.
Do you have a go-to emoji? What does it mean to you?
Prayer hands. Thank you! People are always telling me things, and I'm grateful.
What's the most basic thing about you online?
The amount I spend in the community of middle-aged men looking for advice about tennis injuries, which turns out to be a really, uh, supportive crew.
Do you have any "guilty pleasures" online or in terms of what you stream?
I justify my TikTok consumption by trying to do it in languages I'm working on, but also realize that's just an excuse.
Do you ever comment on or reply to posts?
I remember when you could have reasonable conversations on Twitter and often make the mistake of trying—and once in a while am rewarded with a nice interaction, and learn something.
What's one thing you do online only because you have to for work, and one thing you do strictly for fun?
I could give some very narrow answer involving HR software, but the reality (which I know is out of fashion to the point it's considered delusional) is that I genuinely love my work and don't draw boundaries around it.
Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?
There was an app called Tennis Buddy—an old colleague described it as "Grindr for straight men"—that created location-based, er, connections for tennis games. It seems to have sort of fallen apart and I miss it!
What's the worst thing about the internet in 2021? How about the best thing?
Thanks Ben! Read his New York Times column, subscribe to Bklyner, and follow him on Twitter. 🙏
Recommended in this post How It Started vs. How It's Going memes; handyman videos on YouTube; Gustavo Arellano and Kevin Durant on Twitter; the podcasts 70 Over 70 and Radio Browser; the newsletters Today in Tabs, Political Currents, Siegeltown, Insight, Slow Boring, and Ask Polly; adding the term "reddit" to "how do I" Google searches; Facebook neighborhood groups for finding lost dogs; Fortnite.
Read the previous My Internet posts with Rachel Charlene Lewis, Kimberly Nicole Foster, Miles Klee, Connie Wang, Cat Zhang, Josh Gondelman, Andrea González-Ramírez, Rumaan Alam, Hua Hsu, and Alicia Kennedy.