My Internet: Max Read
The tech and internet journalist now has a newsletter (but still no Twitter or Instagram).
Every Friday, we quiz a very cool “very online” person to get their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Max Read, a former editor-in-chief of Gawker and also Select All, a late, great website about the internet. His Bookforum piece “Going Postal” was included in this year’s edition of The Best American Essays. And this week, he launched a newsletter, Read Max, centered around “themes like ‘what the fuck’ and ideas like ‘there should probably be less computers.’”
Max successfully quit Twitter and Instagram, hopes he’s dead by the time the metaverse arrives, and has been too fully infected by deep cynicism to ever be Here For It when a celebrity posts something wacky. —Nick
What's a recent meme or other post that cracked you up?
This is just, like, an incredibly solid, well-constructed, unbeatable joke. Hard to think of a better use of Twitter than doing this.
Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?
I quit Instagram last year because I found myself spending way too much time watching IG stories from, like, old friends' ex-girlfriends who I’d met once, and even though I know that I can mute them or unfollow them, the amount of time I'd spend just clicking through stories of people I didn't really know or care about kept creeping up, and the amount that my friends whose lives I was interested in were posting seemed to be going down, so checking IG while lying in bed went from a, like, way to engage with people I loved for 15 minutes, max, to a 30-minute black hole of the daily activities people I didn't even like that much. So I just quit. Before that I guess my aesthetic was "trying too hard."
What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?
Big boats; big waves; big boats in big waves; various types of materials getting blown up or set on fire; semi-rare house records; Casio keyboard demos; pirated episodes of the BBC show Escape to the Country, a real estate show where English people think about buying a house in the country, but generally don't.
Do you ever tweet? Why?
I used to tweet a lot, and then less, and then I deleted my Twitter account last year. I think ultimately the reason I quit was the normal one—a recognition that very little good could come of tweeting, and great deal of bad almost certainly would—but interested parties can read me go on at great length about it in Bookforum.
Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
Yes—I used to work at Gawker, where the point of the job was to make posts go viral, and had many things go viral there, and a few things go viral since. Once I learned to turn off "replies from people you don't follow" on Twitter, going viral was a relatively benign experience, but I can't say any of the stuff I've written that's gone viral has been stuff I'm particularly proud of.
Who's the coolest person who follows you?
Absolutely no one cool follows me, on any platform. "Following"—the least cool thing you can do!
Who's someone more people should follow?
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
This is a sort of "I don't even own a TV" answer but I feel like whatever the era was where celebrities had compelling internet presences is basically over. My brain has to been too fully infected by deep cynicism to ever be Here For It when a celebrity posts something wacky. I guess I like Kojima's Twitter. Does he count?
Do you ever comment on or reply to posts?
I comment on some Substack newsletters. And when I can remember or have the energy I like to email writers whose work I enjoy. I think commenting and replying, despite their reputation, are one of the real joys of the internet—the ability to reach out and contact people you otherwise never would have been able to speak with doesn't have to be used for evil!
Where do you tend to get your news?
Now that I'm a father in my late 30s, I've transitioned into being a "homepage" guy. I visit the NYT homepage, the Financial Times homepage, and the New York magazine homepage. I get most of my news there, and then from group chats.
What's your favorite non-social media app?
RadarScope, an app I bought that lets me look at weather radar maps. If you like to look at where the rain is—and I do—I can't recommend this app enough. I even pay for "Pro."
What are you willing to pay for online?
Are you a fan of any NFT art or artists? Do you have strong feelings about blockchain tech or cryptocurrencies?
My strong feeling about blockchain stuff is "discomfort"; it seems like a prima facie bad way of organizing the world that is nonetheless going to take over thanks to the efforts of a handful of pretty rich people and people who think they might get rich without anyone ever consulting the rest of us.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
I subscribe to a bunch. I think my favorite is Line of Actual Control, a newsletter from a journalist and data analyst who uses publicly available data to do stuff like identify naval fleets and track wars from satellite photos.
Are you into any podcasts right now?
I'm a huge fan of BBC's In Our Time, a show that interviews three experts about a specific topic (from "the Evolution of Horses" to "The Jacobite Rebellion"). For news analysis I like the interview shows Politics, Theory, Other and The Dig. For alienating my girlfriend and making her leave the room I like Hollywood Handbook, which is a podcast about two guys who are always sort of doing a bit and sort of not.
Do you have an opinion on Clubhouse or its clones, like Twitter Spaces?
Early on I liked to tune into Clubhouse and listen to rooms for five or 10 minutes at a time—it was like when you're driving somewhere unfamiliar at night and you switch on the radio and let it scan. But at some point it wasn't very interesting to switch between a bunch of rooms where people were talking about hustle culture and a bunch of rooms where tech guys were talking about how much they hate tech media.
Are you regularly in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What are they about?
I'm in a few Slacks that are basically just plus-sized group chats. I lurk in some Discord channels, like the one I have access to as a patreon subscriber of the podcast Time to Say Goodbye.
How excited—or apprehensive—are you about the metaverse?
I still don't really understand what it is except like, VR minecraft owned by Facebook? And I have to buy my face as an NFT or something? I hope I'm dead by the time it happens.
What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
I wish I had a cool answer for this like the hugging silhouettes or the Groucho guy but … my go-to emoji is cry-laughing. I use it in about 50 percent of texts. I'm a dad, what do you want me to say?
What's a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve streamed a lot lately?
My friend Grady makes incredible Spotify playlists of strange and forgotten disco, house, funk, and more. The latest one is so great.
What's the most basic thing that you love online?
Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
Gavin Mueller's book Breaking Things at Work has a somewhat broader ambit than "the internet," but I think it counts. It's about the Luddite movement and its descendants over the centuries, examining workers resisting technological encroachments on their power by … well, yeah, breaking things at work. It made me think hard about my career on the blog assembly line, and what resistance to the machine might look like for online writers and journalists. It's short and extremely readable. Can't recommend it enough.
What's one thing you recommend for maintaining a healthy relationship with the internet?
Let me know if anyone finds out!
What's the worst thing about the internet in 2021? How about the best thing?
Worst thing: the constant, desperate, sweaty self-promotion that's suffused everything you encounter
Best thing: My new newsletter, Read Max, now on Substack at maxread.substack.com. Subscribe for the low price of $50/year or $5/month!
Thanks Max! Subscribe to his newsletter. 😂
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