My Internet: Rumaan Alam
The acclaimed novelist argues with his son about memes and writes in secret on Twitter.
Welcome to Embedded, your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, published Monday through Friday by Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci. “Get Embedded” on Twitter and Instagram. 🧩
It's Friday, which means we're back with My Internet, our weekly feature in which we quiz an extremely cool “extremely online” person on their social media and streaming habits to get their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome New York literary sensation Rumaan Alam, the author of Rich and Pretty, That Kind of Mother, and Leave the World Behind, a 2020 National Book Award finalist that USA Today called “a perfectly-engineered thrill ride that is also a novel of ideas” and prompted The New York Times Book Review to praise the “acidic wit … [Alam] uses to break down contemporary life at the cellular level.” When he’s not deploying that same wit on Twitter—where, in a locked account, he also started writing Leave the World Behind—Rumaan trains the YouTube algorithm with dramatic renditions of torch songs, admires the lifestyles of the Olsen twins and Stefano Pilati from afar, and muddles through Mario Kart. —Nick
What's a recent meme that you like?
I think I'm too old to fully comprehend the medium. My little one is constantly talking about things he's seen on YouTube (mostly related to Wings of Fire fandom; if you know, you know) and I'm always telling him not to talk about memes and he gets so cross with me because apparently this is non-meme content? What is a meme, really?
Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?
I have two Instagram accounts. One is pure dad content, insofar as it's 100 percent pictures of my kids, often eating, because kids eating is hilarious and cute. My other Instagram account is just nerd stuff. Is nerd an aesthetic? Let's agree that it is.
What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?
My history reveals that it's mostly musical performance; Marlon Williams, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Diane Keaton singing "Seems Like Old Times" from Annie Hall, one of the greatest cinematic moments I can think of, though possibly rivaled by Meryl Streep singing at the end of Postcards From the Edge, which I have apparently watched *a lot* on YouTube. I wonder if YouTube knows I'm gay.
Do you use TikTok?
Like the man at middle age that I am, I only know about TikTok from people's tweets and Instagram Stories of it.
Do you use Pinterest?
I do, for interior design ideas, as though pinning Stefano Pilati's Paris apartment puts it somehow within reach? Pinterest is about as realistic as pornography.
Are there any influencers who you would be sad to see stop posting?
I think I'm too old to be influenced by those who proclaim themselves influencers. It's like that ringtone that people over 40 can't hear.
Do you ever tweet? Why?
Do I ever. Why is harder to answer. Loneliness, presumably. Though I did start writing my last book on Twitter, in a locked account that no one will ever see.
Which platform do you put the most effort into posting on?
Twitter, probably, though I don't know how much effort I put into it, as my subpar tweets attest.
Who's the coolest person who follows you?
There are two writers following me who I believe could one day win the Nobel Prize, and I can't wait to be able to say "X Nobel Laureate follows me on Twitter" as though that means anything at all.
Who's someone you know you should unfollow but can't seem to?
I follow several Instagram accounts that are just photos of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and I cannot quit them.
Is there a podcast you're currently obsessed with? How and when do you usually listen?
The New Yorker has two fiction podcasts, both superb; one in which the writers read work from the current issue, one in which a writer reads a story from the magazine's archive. I think they're both wonderful, and I sometimes just wander around Prospect Park alone listening to them.
Do you have an opinion about Clubhouse?
I don't know what it is, so I suppose I don't.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters?
I have emails from December to which I've not yet responded, so I'm terrible at managing my inbox.
Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr?
I never really used either, so I guess my answer is no.
Who's a digital creator more people should know about?
I like to follow visual artists to see the work they have in progress, but that's about the simple presentation of oil on canvas or pencil on paper, not any particular digital trickery. This question makes me feel very old.
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence?
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, because they have none, save a fan base devoted to them.
Are you regularly in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What are they about?
I'm in my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and I love it; we have deaccessioned so much old kid stuff that way and it feels so satisfying to hand off an old bike or pair of shoes to some other kid.
Do you consider yourself part of any specific online communities?
I do not!
Are you a gamer? What are you playing right now? Do you have a gamer friend group?
I am not. I can barely play Mario Kart, though my 11-year-old kindly pretends that I'm really good at it.
Do you have a go-to emoji? What does it mean to you?
I like the classic skull, which is useful to communicate dread, my most frequent emotion.
Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
Never. What an absolute baller move.
Do any of your group chats have names? What's the best one?
I'm in two group chats, one with two dear friends and one with my husband and our kids. The latter is cleverly called "Fam chat" and it's mostly me texting everyone to tell them that dinner is ready. I love when the kids text me, text messages from small kids are hilarious.
What's the most basic thing about you online?
This questionnaire reveals that I'm quite basic, I think.
What's the most specific or niche Spotify playlist that you like?
I make Spotify playlists for the specific book I'm writing. Very niche insofar as only I see them. They're pretty awful. The music I listen to when I write has to be both enjoyable and kind of irksome in some way that is hard to explain to anyone else.
Who topped your Spotify Wrapped last year?
Cate Le Bon. I listened to her record Reward so often that six of my top ten were from that record, which I still love and listen to constantly.
Are you signed up for any "alternative" movie/TV or music streaming services, like Mubi or Deezer?
Do you have any "guilty pleasures" online or in terms of what you stream?
I reject the idea of guilty pleasure; what brings you pleasure has value, and shouldn't require feeling shame.
Do you ever comment on or reply to posts? Which platforms? What inspires you to do that when you do?
Sure; I love shouting into the void.
Do you use any shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?
I do sometimes stalk specific pieces of clothing on eBay or TheRealReal, and I often stalk auctions and specific artists on LiveAuctioneers. I'm trying to do that less though; spending money online can feel disturbingly unreal.
What's one thing you do online only because you have to for work, and one thing you do strictly for fun?
I don't think there's anything I feel obligated to do for my work, but the one thing I do that I consider a professional endeavor is share what I'm reading, whether on Twitter or Instagram; I love knowing what other people are reading and hope people find some value in seeing the stuff I've enjoyed reading.
Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?
Yes, I want to watch the latter seven seasons of Murder She Wrote online, but cannot, and it drives me mad.
What's the worst thing about the internet in 2021? How about the best thing?
The worst thing about it is its omnipresence. The best thing about it is its ability to provide a tether to others in a moment in which so much of the business of life has been curtailed for the public health.
Thanks Rumaan! Buy his books Leave the World Behind, That Kind of Mother, and Rich and Pretty; read his short fiction and criticism and other journalism; listen to Working and Outward, the podcasts he co-hosts on Slate; and find him on Twitter and Instagram.
Recommended in this post Diane Keaton singing in Annie Hall and Meryl Streep singing in Postcards From the Edge on YouTube; Stefano Pilati's Paris apartment on Pinterest; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen fan accounts on Instagram; The New Yorker’s The Writer’s Voice and Fiction podcasts; Buy Nothing groups on Facebook; Mario Kart; the Cate Le Bon album Reward; TheRealReal and LiveAuctioneers; Murder She Wrote; guiltlessly seeking pleasure. 💀
Read the previous My Internet posts with Hua Hsu and Alicia Kennedy.