My Internet: Luke O’Neil
The Welcome to Hell World writer reads heartbreaking comments under Korn videos on YouTube.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Luke O’Neil, the author of the popular “political and literary (?)” newsletter Welcome to Hell World and the book of the same name. Luke tweets because there’s a gaping hole inside and the only way to fill it is with the dopamine from making the numbers go up, likes the Reels where an animal thinks it’s a person or else where an animal is very big or very small, and is in a couple local Facebook groups that much to his surprise don't seem to have any white supremacists on them. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
LUKE O’NEIL: I am not online to laugh I am here to make myself miserable every moment of the day and guess what it works. I suppose Trump getting Elon Musk’s ass the other day was pretty funny. Say what you will about that truly vile in all other ways man but he has the heart of a genuine poster.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
LUKE O’NEIL: By far the majority of my time on YouTube is spent watching, or listening rather, to videos called like Waves Crashing on the Beach 10 Hours, or Thunderstorm at Night, or if I’m really going for it I’ll pull up one that’s like Thunderstorm AND Waves for that little something extra.
I’ve written about these kinds of videos a few times. Sometimes if I really can’t sleep I’ll start reading the comments and they can be either soothing like “It’s nice to know that we’re all strangers from all over the world falling asleep to the sound of these same waves” or sometimes they’ll be like “Sitting here unable to sleep thinking about how I wasted my life” or “Am I the only one terrified of this deep watery abyss creeping in on us?” and then I go ah I shouldn’t have looked at that type of shit at 3:30 in the morning.
Other than that I’ll have a couple of glasses of posting juice in the evening and go on music video binges from time to time. Usually it’s 90s indie or 2000s post-hardcore type stuff and I like to read the comments on those too. It’s always either the saddest and most heartbreaking thing you’ve ever read, or else the dumbest, and sometimes both at once. I wrote a thing that I liked a couple years back called YouTube comments are the last sincere space online. It will be someone writing “Sometimes when I am alone, I think of all the regrets in my life... I just wanted to kill myself and disappear...But then I listen to this song... Maybe I am not the only one suffering... Maybe I could stay alive a little more,” and it’s under like a Korn video.
Other than that not much YouTube. I am not going to watch a guy bullshit into a camera for hours at a time which people really seem to like to do.
EMBEDDED: Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
LUKE O’NEIL: No TikTok for me but my wife is on it almost as much as I am on Twitter and that is saying a lot. I suppose I see a decent amount of Reels which are basically the same thing since Instagram insists on forcing them on us now. I like the ones where an animal thinks it’s a person or else where an animal is very big or very small.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
LUKE O’NEIL: I almost never post to the grid anymore if that’s what not doing that is called. I used to post stories of nice places I was visiting or photogenic food or drinks I was consuming but that was back when I used to go places. Now I’ll maybe post a video of a little guy running through my backyard. Squirrels and bunnies and birds and so on. I also use it to post screencaps of my Hell World newsletters when they go live as like a tease to get people interested in subscribing. It doesn’t work.
EMBEDDED: Do you tweet? Why?
LUKE O’NEIL: You would have to ask a philosopher. Or my therapist. I just got a new one after like two years of looking during the early pandemic when there were none to be found and this one seems like she’s actually going to try to hold me accountable for my bullshit. I fucked up here.
Doing therapy on the computer is kind of fucked up and I’m not sure I like it. Feels fake to me as opposed to going somewhere with all of the normal bracketing of “I am in therapy now time to do therapy.”
I guess I tweet for the same reasons most people do: There’s a gaping hole inside and the only way to fill it is with the dopamine from making the numbers go up.
I honestly do enjoy going on there and talking about music with my friends and followers though. It’s so much nicer than fighting with people about politics all day which I also do.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
LUKE O’NEIL: Sure, on Twitter plenty of times. It fucking sucks. Now if I notice a tweet sort of reaching escape velocity I either mute it right away or else delete it outright. Not worth it. At a certain level of engagement it doesn’t matter what the post is about you’re going to see it all descend into chaos.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
LUKE O’NEIL: I feel like listing the cool people who follow you would be a weird thing to do but there are a few comedians and people who I listen to on podcasts a lot that do and that means they are my close personal friends. I assume, as is the case with the binding contract between all podcasters and their listeners, that this feeling of fellowship flows in both directions.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
LUKE O’NEIL: I spent about nineteen hours a day either on Twitter following the news of the day or else reading the major national newspapers and magazines for the sole purpose of getting absolutely red-assed and pissed-off out of my mind.
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive trend you see in media right now? What's one negative trend?
LUKE O’NEIL: This could just be my bubble but I’m noticing a lot more people becoming aware of how most of the people at the prominent newspapers and magazines are the dumbest fucks alive and that there is and has never been any such thing as the objectivity that they use as their little frat club oath to shield themselves from criticism while clocking in at the consent factory and advocating every day for policies that will immiserate us all.
The negative trend is that despite more people knowing all of this now the media institutions do not give a shit. What’s the Drill tweet that’s like “keep telling me to shut the fuck up it’s only going to make my opinions worse”?
EMBEDDED: What does “cancel culture” mean to you?
LUKE O’NEIL: Pee pee poo poo.
EMBEDDED: Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
LUKE O’NEIL: I do indeed. We’re taking a break and rethinking the project at the moment, but I was part of a collective of newsletters and podcasters (lol I know) called Discontents for the past year or two and everyone on there does great work including Discourse Blog, Forever Wars, BORDER/LINES , The Flashpoint, Wars of Future Past, Sick Note, Foreign Exchanges, and I Hate It Here And Never Want To Leave to name a few.
My favorite newsletters has been and remains The Small Bow, which is about addiction and recovery, but is just beautifully written in my opinion.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
LUKE O’NEIL: I am not a huge podcast guy and the ones I listen to regularly tend to be pretty obvious ones like Maron and the various Scott Aukerman extended universe ones. I mostly listen to podcasts when I’m running which is good because unlike listening to music which might force me to work hard, a podcast’s pace and tone allows me run very slowly.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Around what age?
LUKE O’NEIL: No, by the time Snapchat and then TikTok came around I had already told myself I’m just not going to get into a whole other social media thing. I’m glad young people are having fun, if they are, let people do what they want, but I can’t watch people mugging and dancing on the front-facing camera it’s just not for me.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
LUKE O’NEIL: I mostly use Reddit to read about episodes of TV shows I like that merit further inspection. Although I find my tolerance for that sort of really digging into every frame and theorizing shit, like people do with Severance and a few other shows now, has kind of waned. Got burned by that whole thing too badly back in the Lost days. The group Discontents I mentioned earlier has a Discord with channels for each of our things. The Hell World group on there is nice, but the only one that does any real business is the Ashley Feinberg channel and she hardly ever posted anything to her newsletter!! Sick perverts every one of them.
I am in a couple local town Facebook groups and much to my surprise there seem to be no white supremacists on them. That’s pretty rare when it comes to local Facebook groups. I’m also in a couple Boston sports ones because in addition to everything else annoying about me I am a big dumb Boston sports idiot.
EMBEDDED: What’s something you might want to do in the metaverse? What’s something you wouldn’t want to do?
LUKE O’NEIL: Nothing. Anything.
EMBEDDED: What purpose do you see in NFTs?
LUKE O’NEIL: Like most things involving crypto they seem to be very good for stealing people’s money and laundering it around the world.
EMBEDDED: Do you think Web3 will mean a better internet?
LUKE O’NEIL: Still have no idea what Web3 is supposed to be.
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?
LUKE O’NEIL: My main group chat does that old thing where whenever someone makes a funny typo, or says something goofy, someone changes it to the name of the chat, so it’s regularly changing. My personal favorite we had for a while though was San Diego Ideas Festival.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
LUKE O’NEIL: I pretty much only use emojis when texting with my wife to be cute and stuff but for like ten years strong I’m still partial to the stroking his chin thinking guy. Very versatile.
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
LUKE O’NEIL: After the first year and a half or so of Covid I got pretty used to sitting at home in the evening and having a few beers and listening to music and posting about it a lot to Twitter most likely to a lot of people’s annoyance. I tend to become hyper-focused on one band at a time and really hammer them into the ground and basically won’t shut the fuck up about them online, usually something like Deftones, or lately Chevelle. I play this annoying game on Twitter where I do this thing I made up called BTTBA where my people ask me if a certain album is Better than the Blue Album by Weezer. It is a very high bar to meet for me!
I have to get out of the house man. I gotta go somewhere. Anywhere.
I make a lot of playlists, mostly like nu-metal like this one, or this one which is about 70 hours of emo songs that I have used for years while DJing Emo Night Boston, a dumb fun party I do, although it’s sort of on hiatus for covid-related reasons.
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?
LUKE O’NEIL: I buy stuff on Bandcamp, mostly just to support newer bands I like. I am ashamed to admit it but I do still pay for Spotify. In addition to getting out of the house I need to develop a stronger moral compass.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?
LUKE O’NEIL: I try to keep up on whatever The One Show We All Know About Now is at any given time, but I had to draw the line when it came to signing up for every one of these services. HBO Max probably has the best stuff (RIP Raised by Wolves), but as long as Netflix has 30 Rock on it I’ll keep paying for that garbage. It seems to be, aside from the white noise videos I mentioned earlier, the only thing that I can watch “to go to sleep to.”
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
LUKE O’NEIL: I look at the weather app a lot weirdly. Oh look at that, it’s gonna be 95 next Sunday. Doesn’t really change much about my life but still one likes to know.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want that you can’t seem to find anywhere online?
LUKE O’NEIL: Nothing jumping to mind but I’m concerned about this bullshit going on with the Internet Archive for one thing. Also, my penchant for using Spotify aside, this move to making it default that we rent our books and music and movies from streaming services and they never truly belong to us is a real bummer and probably not going to get any better any time soon.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
LUKE O’NEIL: No.