My Internet: Michelle Santiago Cortés
The Cut contributor lives on TikTok but buys old magazines on eBay.
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 Michelle Santiago Cortés, and internet culture reporter and critic and contributor to The Cut, where earlier this week she wrote about how algorithms shape our own views of ourselves. Michelle watches silent vloggers, DMs with what seem to be teens from Depop, and believes we should simply pay attention to the emotions we experience engaging with the internet instead of judging them. —Nick
Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?
I’m a Taurus so I like it when things are ~pretty~. I mostly post to the feed or on public stories when I’m gearing up to promote a new story. Looking at it now it’s a lot of food, moody window pics, nature pics. I always post a selfie to promote my stories so there is currently one at the top—I think I like torturing myself with the process of taking a selfie and posting it, which I only started doing around 2019.
Love to archive posts. To me, Instagram encourages editing and self-production so I lean into it by being as bratty and snobby it’s possible.
What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?
I have the YouTube presence of someone who grew up reading Amy Astley’s Teen Vogue and moved to NY to become a writer: I search pilates, yoga, and barre videos for my daily workouts. If I’m shopping for beauty products I check in on Hyram or just search for the product and click on a creator with a similar complexion to mine. I keep up with a few silent vloggers. I wish Orion Carloto posted more. If I want to ~work on myself~ I’ll binge-watch Hitomi Mochizuki’s channel. I also use it for music! Lately it’s been a lot of Takashi Kokubo.
However, most of my time spent on YouTube is spent logged out of my account. I binge-watch (and rewatch) any piece of content (mostly interviews) related to whatever fandom I’m immersed in at the moment and I like keeping those indulgences separate.
Do you use TikTok? If so, how would you describe what shows up on your For You Page?
I live on TikTok. I don’t know about anyone else, but my FYP is in a terrible rut these days, nothing holds my attention. This is the last TikTok I posted to Close Friends Stories on IG: a playlist for Claudia and Lestat’s fight in Interview with A Vampire. These are my last-saved TikTok’s: this one about crying on your birthday, this one about Eric Andre’s NFT, and I’m not an Army nor do I watch Euphoria but I saved this one as well. This is the last TikTok I sent a friend. Perhaps the one good thing I consistently get from TikTok is Catholicism supremacy.
Do you ever tweet? Why?
I only Tweet when I’m promoting my work or when I’m looking for sources. It’s rare for me to Tweet when I’m angry but I sometimes do. I sometimes Tweet in Spanish for my community back home but those always feel out of place. Unfortunately maintaining a Twitter presence has made finding sources so much easier so more awkwardness is certainly to come!
I’m a big fan of deleting Tweets. I regularly comb through my Tweets to delete things that don’t seem relevant anymore—I try to think of my feed as an introduction to the kind of writer I am (or am trying to be), so I want it to be concise.
What's your favorite non-social media app?
Clue, the period tracker.
What are you willing to pay for online?
Who, in a moment of despair, hasn’t forked over a few dollars for a Patreon that claims to have all the answers? I pay for HBOMax and Spotify Premium. I also have a NYTimes and Study Hall subscription. I’m still working on canceling my subscription to The Times—I signed up for a free trial to read one story without thinking I’d have to work around international call fees and the New York-UK time difference to cancel my trial. Pray for me.
I wish I had more bandwidth to manage it, but I’d love to pay for all manner of Patreons and Substacks and OnlyFans and then cancel my subscription after a few months and move onto others. I feel like that’s more compatible with the way I consume content. Still working on it.
How excited—or apprehensive—are you about the metaverse?
The metaverse is a Silicon Valley and venture capitalist ambition. Nothing more. We don’t have to think of it as an inevitable future or as an impending evolution or forthcoming progress. It’s fun to consider how it would challenge our thinking about the virtual vs. the actual, but for now, I want to think of it for what it is: something rich elites want to do in the pursuit of profits.
Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?
Every day I fight the urge to buy old magazines on eBay and I feel like I’m losing. This morning I decided my closet was set, that I was done with buying clothes for a while. Then I bought a skirt and DM’d what definitely looks like a 17-year-old about the size of the shirt she listed on Depop.
Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
So many! Books: Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression (I’m late to the party but it’s mandatory reading). Mackenzie Wark’s Sensoria (it’s dense but it’s a great survey of writers and thinkers to look into). Based on what I read in Sensoria I look forward to diving into Lisa Nakamura’s Digitizing Race and Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free—I’m a slow reader so I’ll likely won’t finish these until next year. If I manage to read through those I’m interested in reading Jussi Parikka’s A Geology of Media as well.
On Instagram: New York Tech Zine Fair and Cybernetics Library (which I have yet to visit), for zines, artwork and other fun objects. Olivia McKayla Ross is a force and her account is @cyberdoula and she’s also behind @seekingmavisbeacon. @Hacking//Hustling is a collective of sex workers and allies working at the intersection of social justice and technology, because sex work is behind so much of the technology and regulations that make up the social internet. Finally, I’m slowly diving into the School for Poetic Computation which calls itself a “experimental school supporting study in art, code, hardware + critical theory.” A lot of it goes over my head but sometimes art is the best way to start working through these ideas and they teach classes like, “Digital Love Languages.”
In terms of articles, I’ve recently gotten into Kaitlyn Tiffany’s work in The Atlantic—would love to find time to read her new book on fandoms. I was cleaning out my Pocket recently and read this great feature (from 2020) about how K-pop fans helped change Twitter’s policy in memorializing a deceased idol (TW: suicide), that got me thinking about the “right to oblivion,” which I hope to explore soon.
What's one thing you recommend for maintaining a healthy relationship with the internet?
Be mindful of how you think about it? I care more about exploring how we think about the internet and how our feelings and desires might shape those thoughts. I think paying attention to the thought processes and emotions we experience in engaging with the internet—instead of judging and diagnosing—is more helpful. So just, observe?
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