My Internet: Matthew Yglesias
The Slow Boring writer stans banal mainstream media.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Matthew Yglesias, an early and influential blogger and co-founder of Vox who now writes the newsletter Slow Boring. Matt wonders if his taste in music is a character flaw, appreciates Elon Musk’s true love of the shitposting game, and finds China's control of TikTok genuinely troubling. —Nick
What's a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
I enjoyed this one—I think you need to be pretty brain-poisoned by the internet to get it but it’s funny.
What type of videos do you watch on YouTube?
Mostly stuff about movies. The entire “Every Frame a Painting” series is fantastic though sadly they aren’t making them any more. I love Thomas Flight, sometimes click around on another movie-related stuff.
Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
What do you use Instagram for?
Pictures of kids
Do you tweet? Why?
Constantly! Twitter is incredibly fun and informative. All the bad things people say about it are true, but it’s also a great way to get to know people, learn things, kill time, and everything else.
Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
I kind of want to do the whole Bane “I was born in the dark” speech here.
I think I’ve had too much stuff go viral in both positive and negative ways to even count.
Who's the coolest person who follows you?
For professional purposes I’m obviously glad to have several U.S. senators as newsletter subscribers but in terms of coolness I’m going to go with Kim Gordon following me on Twitter. Though I’m also the parent of a seven-year-old and he’s most impressed by Judd Winick.
Who's someone more people should follow?
The philosopher Liam Kofi Bright has a great Twitter feed (I’m sure his published academic philosophy is good too).
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
It’s got to be Elon Musk. I know people who are like, “why is the richest person in the world wasting his time shitposting?” but that just goes to show how much true love of the game he has. If I had tens of billions of dollars I’d be posting constantly.
Where do you tend to get your news?
I grew up in New York City and I’ve always thought my hometown paper, The New York Times, publishes a lot of good journalism. But if you want the nitty-gritty on a politics story there’s a good website called Politico. The Financial Times has excellent coverage of business and finance. I’m the world’s number one stan for banal mainstream media.
What's one positive trend you see in media right now? What's one negative trend?
I think more and more places embracing the subscription model is good. Conversely, I think it’s genuinely troubling that we’re allowing a Chinese-controlled viral video app to be so influential. There was this bipartisan buzz of activity around addressing this two years ago and then it didn’t happen.
What does "cancel culture" mean to you?
The whole term and discourse around it are absurd. That said, because politics is increasingly polarized along lines of educational attainment something newish that you see these days inside nominally non-partisan non-ideological institutions dominated by highly educated people is an effort to declare certain views beyond the pale even though they are widely held.
I think the best way to think things through is often to actually write about them, and I’m trying to work on a piece about this right now and struggling somewhat to achieve the level of coherence that I would like.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
I try to read pretty widely but Noah Smith and Full Stack Economics have the highest share of “yes I agree with this” content.
Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
I’m very dedicated to the Accidental Tech Podcast, The Big Picture, and The Rewatchables while also working my way through back episodes of Tides of History and The History of English. I listen to Revolutions with my kid. Mostly just listen while walking around. I tend not to listen to the kinds of podcasts that I might plausibly be a guest on, because to me that’s kind of too much of a busman’s holiday.
Do you use Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse? What for?
I’ve done it but it doesn’t really interest me.
Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Around what age?
When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
Several years ago at the behest of my wife during some home decorating decisions.
Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr? Why?
Not really. I miss old-time pre-Tumblr blogs.
Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What's the most useful or entertaining one?
The good Slacks are secret so I can’t tell you.
Are you playing any games right now?
What's something you might want to do in the metaverse? What's something you wouldn't want to do?
I’m not going to tell you that I’m really excited to start attending meetings in the Metaverse but I can easily imagine that being an improvement over Zoom. I’m not really a gamer but it seems like there are a lot of gaming applications. We’ll have to see.
What purpose do you see in NFTs?
Well, so, they’re pointless right? But people pay good money for first editions of books they like or for signed memorabilia. People pay thousands of dollars (or much more!) for original paintings when they could hang cheap prints instead. It’s art, it’s not totally rational. Walter Benjamin’s old essay “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction” seems relevant.
Do you think Web3 will mean a better internet?
I have no idea. Usually things get better over time unless they’re afflicted by Baumol’s Cost Disease, so I do think we’ll get a better internet. Possibly because of Web3?
Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
This has never happened to me.
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?
I’m in a really exciting group chat with some other dads that’s called Dadz and we had a pretty feisty debate about kids’ swim classes.
What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
😬 is very helpful for clarifying tone.
What's a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
All the music I really like is aughts indie rock that was popular with white male teens and twentysomethings when I was a teen and twentysomething 😬.
It always seems like a character flaw to me. Like a person who genuinely understood and appreciated music would listen to new stuff or listen to old stuff or broaden his horizons and get into hip-hop or country or jazz. And obviously I appreciate plenty of music that isn’t indie rock released when I was in my twenties. But I do fundamentally keep looping back to the music that my friends and I listened to a lot when we were young and constantly popping into shows at the Black Cat or the 9:30 Club.
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’m an Apple Music guy … when my son was a toddler, back around 2016 or so, I think we got a record player and tried to get into some physical media so we would have music that he could interact with. But it didn’t really take and now he just bosses Alexa around like a normal person.
If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?
HBO has the most genuinely good stuff whether that’s Sopranos and The Wire or the TCM movie collection.
What's your favorite non-social media app?
Wow, I dunno. I think my time use stats say the answer is Notes. Is that my favorite? I think real note-heads buy specialist third party note-taking apps and don’t just use the generic one that ships with the iPhone. But it’s a pretty great app for taking notes and writing down little snippets of text. Just yesterday I saw on Twitter that Apple is looking to hire a software engineer to work on Notes. If I had any marketable skills, maybe I could apply. Learn to code!
What's the most basic internet thing that you love?
Even more basic than Notes? That’s a high bar to cross. But look, every once in awhile I fire up the old “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” video and it fucking rules.
Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?
There’s a decent number of classic Hong Kong action movies that aren’t streaming anywhere—there’s no Hard Boiled or The Killer for example—and I wish the lords of tech would rectify that.
Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?
Continuing my theme of being boring I mostly shop on Amazon
Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
Way back in 1999 when I was a senior in high school and getting interested in the internet either my grandfather or my uncle (they’re both economists) bought me a book by Hal Varian and Carl Shapiro called Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. It’s very insightful precisely because having been written so early it’s totally detached from the specifics of different technologies or corporate strategies and just focuses on very fundamental issues.
What's the last thing that brought you joy online?
This random video that retroactively edited older Batman movies (including an animated one) to show what it would have looked like if they’d all worn dark eye makeup the way Pat-Bat does.