My Internet: Delia Cai
The novelist and Vanity Fair correspondent knows the secret to enjoying Twitter.
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 Delia Cai, the senior Vanities correspondent at Vanity Fair, author of the new novel Central Places (which you can preorder here), and most importantly, curator behind @centralplacesnovel on Instagram, where she cultivates a highly specific mood board for growing up in the Midwest.
Delia leaves Chrome tabs identifying pasta shapes open on her phone, enjoys the Semafor Flagship newsletter for how it helps her slow-moving morning brain process global news in the form of a top 10, and sparked concern in her brother's eyes when he saw her For You page. —Nick
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EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
I don’t watch The Traitors, but I *do* follow the Teletubbies account on Twitter, and you know what? Surprisingly good. Whoever is in charge of the Teletubbies online presence is either a genius or so self-serious that it works. For example:
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
DELIA CAI: A lot of psychobabble self-help, sometimes from Amy Millie types, almost always from some suburban 18-year-old who speaks with such authority that I buy into it every time. I forget how intimate your FYP is! One time, my little brother and I were home for the holidays, and we wanted to watch TikTok together. So we just looked at it on my phone, and every other video was like “Ladies, if he wanted to, he would” and directions for manifesting. My brother has never quite looked at me the same way again. There is concern in those 21-year-old eyes.
EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
DELIA CAI: It has absolutely deteriorated, but when I try to describe to myself (or professionally) what’s changed, I still can’t put it into words. It’s just … more random and stupid? In a way that no longer clicks with my brain? But there is still a reliable amount of good tweets, and for that I will stay forever.
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
DELIA CAI: Someone told me that the secret to enjoying Twitter is getting all of your friends to make private accounts, and then you follow each other and post away. I like the sound of that, like a lower-pressure group chat. That’s how I used Twitter in college when we all first got accounts, anyway. Do a little shit talk, do a little complaining, but keep it within the family, AKA your 60 followers who you also know in real life. That is the way.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
DELIA CAI: I have a hard time seeing my life for the lovely and beautiful and full thing it really is, so Instagram actually helps me ritualize that kind of appreciation. I look at my own profile a lot, and sometimes it feels like looking at someone else’s life, and then I remind myself like, oh yeah maybe you just need some extra Vitamin D today because this shit is awesome.
The girlboss answer is that I just made a new account, @centralplacesnovel, to share memes and TikToks that relate to my book and general experience of growing up. That has been fun, because some old friends from high school have found it, and they DM me each time like “oH MY GOD!! REMEMBER CATERPILLAR NEPO BABIES??” Which is what memes are supposed to do, I think, in their purest form: committing inside jokes to the annals of history.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
DELIA CAI: I watch very little YouTube. If I’m on there, it’s to do a Yoga with Adriene (my goddess) video or to watch a clip from an awards show I missed or something. No dilly-dallying, mostly because I have no patience for the Skip Ads or generally any kind of information input that is un-skimmable.
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
DELIA CAI: Yeaaaaaa lol. It’s very funny because whenever it happens, the most random people in my life tell me about it. One time, my hairdresser told me she saw a tweet. Another time, my mom said a co-worker showed her a printout (lol) of my tweet. It is an unbelievably un-useful experience that maybe gets you a handful of new followers. The only satisfying consequence is when an ex sees it and reaches out/realizes they can never escape the vast reaches of your delightful, charming, beautiful personality, ever.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
DELIA CAI: Having read a lot of these interviews, I have actually thought about this question deeply while in the shower, commuting on the subway, you name it. And my answer is my friend Sean Miura, who is a brilliant creative and activist. I don’t think he knows it, but he has taught me a lot in the past few years of our friendship, and I hope he never leaves Twitter because then what will we talk about???
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
DELIA CAI: Nimesh Patel (findingnimesh) and Jeff Wright are two comedians on TikTok who I will always pause and watch. Patel is more so a regular stand-up type who is very good at cutting little clips for TikTok; Jeff Wright is probably one of the definitive forces of original TikTok comedy. His skits about God and Jesus are excellent.
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EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
DELIA CAI: I know this is technically a question about like who’s good at social media, but in literal terms of conveying charisma through a screen, Keke Palmer is inimitable. She is hilarious whenever she’s doing press for herself, but I also think a lot about the year she hosted the red carpet for the Met Gala and just perfectly chopped it up with all the celebs, one after another, for like hours?? She really made it seem like she knew and cared about everyone personally. That shit is hard to do. No one else on earth is this good at it. It was, as the kids say, incredible energy.
EMBEDDED: Do you typically start searches on Google, Reddit, TikTok, or another source?
DELIA CAI: Google for sure. Ninety percent of my phone tabs are Chrome searches for pasta types because I am always reading menus at Italian places and wanting to know what shape they are talking about. I need pasta flashcards.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
DELIA CAI: Twitter for the live updates, newsletters as a kind of to-be-read list of all the hits in my email each day.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
, Caitlin Dewey’s , and The Ann Friedman Weekly. To me, those are the classics. Dirt is one of the few I make a point to read, every single day.
DELIA CAI: Too many to name, too many possibilities of leaving someone great out, so I’ll just say the newsletters I have subscribed to for the longest are:
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite media company newsletters?
DELIA CAI: You know what, I actually have enjoyed the Semafor Flagship newsletter a lot because my slow-moving morning brain can only process global news in that top 10 list format where it’s like, 1) China does trade, 2) New virus? 3) Murder in the Nile. The Daily Beast cheat sheet is another classic for me, for the same reasons: “This person die,” “that person cancelled,” “cobra inside washing machine??” After I read those two, I always make sure to pore over at least 20-30 longform articles that delve into each topic with nuance and verve, of course.
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive media trend? What’s one negative trend?
DELIA CAI: Positive: Patreon/OnlyFans/Substack subscription culture. I feel ancient when I say “no one used to want to pay for things online” but it’s true!
Negative: Everyone is in a constant arms race to dub the next trend or coin the new zeitgeisty portmanteau. Not everything is something, you feel me? But I get it/am guilty of it, too. I think we all watched Jia Tolentino do it with “Instagram Face,” and were like, okay I could do that!!!
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
DELIA CAI: Ughhhhhh okay my biggest secret is that I do not really like podcasts. I’ll do The Daily and Up First when I’m cooking or feeling a little luxuriant with my getting-ready time. The Longform Interview was my second j-school. And I like Time To Say Goodbye because I am that type of Asian. That’s…. kind of it. I have never listened to Serial to this day lol. Something about listening to phone recordings frays my nerves, but as with the YouTube thing, I just prefer to ingest things in writing so I can skim.
EMBEDDED: How has using LinkedIn benefitted you, if at all?
DELIA CAI: It’s good for that stage of job-hunting when you want to get some intel on who you’re interviewing with, or if you are curious about a stranger. Men on Tinder, you sure pick some interesting corporate photos.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Do you miss it?
DELIA CAI: I went to college between 2011 and 2015, so I remember it as the Snapchat heyday, but that could also be because Snapchatting as an adult at a job is really not that fun. But I think Instagram Stories has successfully usurped all the delights of Snapchat, so it’s not like there’s a missing piece of my heart.
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
DELIA CAI: I think I was looking for tattoo ideas … what’s really funny now is how clunky that “Pin it” browser extension is. It was such a revelation back then!
EMBEDDED: Do you have an opinion about Tumblr?
DELIA CAI: I’ve never used it consistently. My teenage haunts were more of the Quizilla variety, the end result being that I know a lot about fanfiction but not as much about memes.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Discord, Slack, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
DELIA CAI: When I first moved to New York, I lived in Cobble Hill (in a converted living room, to be sure). So I still lurk on the neighborhood Facebook group called “BoCoCaGo & Downtown,” mostly to learn how much a Carroll Gardens nanny can command in rates and do some light townhouse window-shopping. It’s a certain kind of Brooklyn parent stomping ground, and I am taking notes.
EMBEDDED: Are you currently playing any games on your computer or phone?
DELIA CAI: I am not a games person at all. Even Wordle was a stretch. It’s just like, for what? It’s not just a digital thing. Like, please do not invite me to your Settlers of Catan night. I will hate it the entire time.
EMBEDDED: Do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and/or Web3?
DELIA CAI: In terms of the metaverse, I definitely don’t think Markie Zuck is going to pull it off. The pandemic taught us that none of us want to be on the internet more.
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI text and art generators? What most concerns you?
DELIA CAI: Ew, nothing. It’s all so boring to read/look at. The whole point of art/literature is human connection, right?
EMBEDDED: What’s your most-used messaging app?
DELIA CAI: Just the regular iPhone Messages, though Instagram DMs is a close second.
EMBEDDED: 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?
DELIA CAI: I started a group chat for all the people in my apartment building! The name is boring (“apt building chat”), but I am actually very happy about its existence. We discuss the garbage situation and the small issue of our front gate sometimes freezing shut.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
DELIA CAI: 🥺🥺 <-This one, which I’m told is the “pleading face emoji,” though to me, it connotes the certain kind of watery-eyed gratitude has been a huge part of this book publication experience for me.
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
DELIA CAI: My friend Adrian and I have gotten into a habit of exchanging voice notes with regularity! We always have some dramatic chaos agent story to tell each other, so voice notes is really great because the twists and turns feel more visceral. I love walking down a street and listening to one she left me, knowing I’m about to break my jaw gasping aloud at each “And then … !”
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
DELIA CAI: I watched the Elvis movie (twice), and I am now listening to more Elvis. I am okay with accepting this part of my personality. Austin Butler is exquisite but lest we forget, Zooey Deschanel did it first.
EMBEDDED: 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?
DELIA CAI: I pay for the Spotify family plan for me and my brother and call it a day. I think I bought that “Iris” cover Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers did together on Bandcamp …. that is probably it.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep one streaming service for TV and/or movies, which would it be, and why?
DELIA CAI: Netflix has the Grey’s Anatomy and SVU back catalogue, so I’ll never give that up. The fun fact I forget to share at every appropriate opportunity is that I’ve seen every single episode of both shows. But you can probably tell that just from like, me.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
DELIA CAI: I like that Widgetsmith app that rotates in new photos from your camera roll randomly on your home screen? Do you know what I’m talking about?
It gives me nice little TBTs to old pics like this one of my family dog, but without the trauma of a Facebook “Ten years ago…” notification. Anyway that’s my homescreen!
EMBEDDED: What’s the most basic internet thing that you love?
DELIA CAI: Pictures of dogs and cats, especially on @mignonettetakespictures Instagram. You just don’t need much more than that.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want but can’t seem to find anywhere online?
DELIA CAI: Oh my God, no. I have never ever had a thought where it’s like “why isn’t X out there.” In my experience, it is always out there. My imagination is probably not that expansive.
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
DELIA CAI: I have bought a fair share of things off Instagram. I have a few of these spandexy turtlenecks from The Line by K that I got targeted at very hard; I was excited how comfortable they were until I realized it’s basically a yassified Under Armour base layer.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
DELIA CAI: Allie Rowbottom’s Aesthetica and Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This nail Instagram and Twitter and the inherent emptiness, respectively.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
DELIA CAI: Probably the TikTok Ratatouille musical. That was so nice. I bought a ticket and watched the whole production online. No regrets whatsoever.