My Internet: Sabrina Imbler
The science writer will never tweet takes again.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Sabrina Imbler, a science reporter who wrote the New York Times headline “When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray.” They start as a staff writer at Defector on June 1, and their book about sea creatures, How Far the Light Reaches, comes out December 6 on Little, Brown. Sabrina gets pictures of bird corpses on their group chat, watches flirty short kings the Gnome Boys on TikTok, and is biased but loves the squid emoji. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What's a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
SABRINA IMBLER: jollibee dancing to the chain by fleetwood mac
EMBEDDED: Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
SABRINA IMBLER: My For You page is a lot of animals, especially cats; queer and trans people; and then a stream I would describe as transfixing videos for when you are high, such as: vacuuming filamentous diatoms, the Fiona/bird duet from Shrek with a passed-out family, this numa numa lipsync with car windows, this person breaking up with themselves in a mirror, a dad feeding a mango to an unseen child, boobahs dancing to bella’s lullabye, Charli XCX Himalayas fancam.
I love the Gnome Boys, which are a group of short kings who do looping Casey Frey-style dances. I love to watch the Gnome Boys. I love their little wiggles and flirty glances. In my next life I would be a Gnome Boy.
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EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
SABRINA IMBLER: I recently took a long break from Instagram because the app was making me feel like I was lonely or living a less interesting life than everyone else and generally making me feel bad. I think I have to somewhat return to it to promote my book, but I decided to delete the app off my phone and only use it on my laptop, where the interface is so bad that it’s very hard to spend more than like 5 minutes on it. I personally find it nicer on Twitter because we are all talking all the time about how miserable we are and how awful the world is. It’s much more grounding.
EMBEDDED: Do you tweet? Why?
SABRINA IMBLER: Ugh extremely yes, I know it’s embarrassing! I tweet a lot to promote my work, like my stories or my book, which feels so annoying but also I can’t not do it, I guess. When I was younger, I thought the best way to be on Twitter was to tweet spicy things like takes and subtweets and what I probably imagined was biting cultural commentary. I think I wanted to partake in the “conversation” and also find people who disliked the same things as me, which can be a very bonding experience. Then I worked for The New York Times for a year and was scared to tweet anything that wasn’t like a creative commons image of a weird bug. Now that I’ve left the Times, I hope I can be more of a person with opinions and emotions, and also say things like “ass” again. But no more takes for me—I often don’t know enough to have any good ones, and I’m old enough to know they belong in the group chat or the most encrypted chat (in-person). I’m pivoting to little joys: a frog in a pocket of water inside a plant, a serene monkey, a scientific illustration of two tardigrades having sex.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
SABRINA IMBLER: Two stories that I wrote for The New York Times went viral on Twitter because of the headlines I wrote (When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray, which was a story about eels eating on land, and Started Out as a Fish. How Did It End Up Like This?, which was a story about the transitional fossil Tiktaalik.) Both times, the most viral posts about these stories were not my own, but other people on Twitter who would screenshot the headline and the photo but omit my byline, and tweet something along the lines of “who wrote this” or “whoever did this deserves a raise” and then get like 10 times as much engagement as my own post, and then sometimes plug their own stuff if the tweet goes super viral. I totally get that people are aware that journalists do not always write their own headlines, but it also seems kind of disingenuous… if you want to know “who wrote this” why did you crop out the byline? The answer was right there! In the grand scheme of things this is a tiny problem but still one that irked me.
I’m also very privileged that my own experiences of going viral, perhaps due to the subject matter I write about, have not spawned any death threats or racist messages, which obviously happens a lot to queer and trans writers and writers of color. The worst responses to my fish tweets were a few people calling me “it” because I use they/them pronouns. My dear friend Elaine Hsieh Chou, who wrote a scathingly funny book called Disorientation, went viral after writing a heartbreaking essay in The Cut about some of the worst things white men say about Asian women, which also meant she was inundated with vilely racist, misogynistic messages as well as threats of actual violence. It’s such a horrible thing, to open up a deep part of you and share it with the world and to have what should be a healing and community-building moment dominated by faceless racist trolls.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
SABRINA IMBLER: Davey Davis (@k8bushofficial on Twitter), who tweets a lot about gender and sexuality and culture. Their tweets are good and funny and often spicy. Also preorder their book X, which is so good and hot!!
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
SABRINA IMBLER: Probably Cher’s Twitter. Her default use of all-caps can seem a lot like yelling, but once your eyes adjust, it feels like an entirely new dialect—living, thinking, and tweeting in all-caps. Per her twitter bio: “IT DOESNT MATTER THERE'S ONLY LOVE&FEAR.”
EMBEDDED: What does “cancel culture” mean to you?
SABRINA IMBLER: Get a life!!!!!
In all seriousness it is a stupid, harmful, invented, and endlessly boring “debate” that continues to get the same tired op-ed in the NYT opinion section or The Atlantic with an argument that would crumble under any logical scrutiny and ends up distracting people from materially important issues that affect and endanger marginalized communities.
EMBEDDED: Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
SABRINA IMBLER: Sad Brown Girl by historian and writer Jules Gill-Peterson, which are occasional deeply informed dispatches often on the history of trans misogyny and trans femininity. I love reading about history, and trans history in particular, and Gills-Peterson brings so much life to trans children and adults in history. I learn so much by reading her work, and I’m so grateful to have been reading the newsletter amid the increasing visibility of trans kids as more and more laws seek to eliminate them. Also Gill-Peterson is a great person to follow on Twitter: @gp_jls.
Also, Davey Davis’s DAVID newsletter.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
SABRINA IMBLER: Normal Gossip hosted by Kelsey McKinney at Defector! I love love love low-stakes gossip and I think this is such a genius idea for a podcast. Also a longtime listener of LindseyBobby of Who Weekly and Tuck Woodstock of Gender Reveal. I listen to drown out the silence, or the noise.
EMBEDDED: Are you playing any games right now?
SABRINA IMBLER: Neopets, baby!!! Picking my own, spinning my wheels, rolling my Turmac.
EMBEDDED: What purpose do you see in NFTs?
SABRINA IMBLER: No!!!!!! Please stop it, the Earth is burning!
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?
SABRINA IMBLER: I am in a group chat with science journalists Marion Renault and Eleanor Cummins called The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which is funny because none of us are in The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Most of the group chat is extremely confidential but in February Eleanor shared a photo of a one-winged totally meatless, headless bird corpse that fell in front of her as she was walking.
EMBEDDED: What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
SABRINA IMBLER: 🦑 for sure. I’m definitely biased as someone who loves squids, but I think the Apple squid specifically has such a determined stance, a little on edge but also flirty, tentacles beckoning, maybe they’re pointing at something in the distance, a squid friend or squid foe or squid lover?
Also 🤠 … appropriate for every occasion!
EMBEDDED: What's a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
SABRINA IMBLER: I find infinite calm in this playlist “worky work” by my friend Chelsea Daniel. I don’t know anything about music but things that I love about this playlist include: harps, bossa nova, enchanting vocals, feeling like you are sitting on a cloud among clouds, Alice Coltrane, an indie song that sounds like a group of white people whispering, fragments of ambience. All of Chelsea’s playlists are so damn good and always surprising, she’s such a brilliant curator of sounds.
EMBEDDED: What's your favorite non-social media app?
SABRINA IMBLER: iNaturalist. I love the natural world but I know so little about how to identify bugs and birds and terrestrial things so whenever I see a cool little critter I open up iNaturalist to try and figure out what it is. It’s how I learned a crab I saw was an Atlantic ghost crab and a little orange-winged fellow I saw was a skipper (in the moth and butterfly family).
EMBEDDED: What's the most basic internet thing that you love?
SABRINA IMBLER: Making friends!! Not to be earnest on main, but I’m really grateful to have connected with so many kind and brilliant people outside of NYC who think about things that I think about, who I probably would not have met outside of Twitter.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?
SABRINA IMBLER: One of the reasons I can’t quit TikTok is that I love seeing little moments in the lives of animals without a human voiceover explaining what it means when the animal does that. Like seeing a tiny perfect newt swim toward you in fuzzy tufts of algae. A circular stampede of ants around a rock. Two ravens swimming in wild synchronicity beside a seacliff. Sometimes I don’t want to know what’s happening or why it’s happening or what hormone does what. I don’t want my curiosity to be resolved. I just want to see it.
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?
SABRINA IMBLER: I buy almost all my clothes secondhand. Depop has chaotic, often ridiculous pricing and is a bit too difficult to search and sort, so I prefer used sites where you can heavily filter and save searches, like eBay and TheRealReal. My weakness is heavily patterned men’s button-downs and vintage Hawaiian shirts. I recently bought a used silk shirt from Casablanca (yes I also hate that Jeff Bezos loves Casablanca 😤 but I still yearn to be a fancy vacation boy, like a maximalist Dickie Greenleaf)
EMBEDDED: What's the last thing that brought you joy online?
SABRINA IMBLER: This squid!!!
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