Threads is a mecca of Millennial brain rot
And it won’t get better until we get better.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Follow me on Threads!!!@@!&&! —Kate
Since Embedded isn’t on Threads…yet:
I hadn’t been watching the launch of Threads closely, but when it finally arrived, I immediately asked my group chat to join.
“I want a social media to have fun with FRIENDS again,” I said, imagining a utopia of benign shitposts and earnest updates that would harken back to the days of MySpace surveys and Facebook statuses. Instead what I got was some kind of multi-level-marketing-themed waiting room filled with Millennial cringe and other witticisms you’d find cataloged in an Urban Outfitters coffee table book in 2014.
There’s already been plenty of writing about what Threads should do differently. It’s solely an algorithmic feed, for one. And your account defaults to following the same accounts you follow on Instagram—which means a majority of them are photo- and not text-native. But ultimately, I don’t think the problem is Threads. The problem is us.
It’s been a while since a bunch of people—30 million in one day, to be exact—joined a social media platform at once. Even TikTok, which hit one billion users in 2021, began in the U.S. as a somewhat niche app whose culture was defined by its early Gen Z users, and which is only now being mimicked by the rest of the internet. Threads, meanwhile, is the first new social media platform in years that Millennials have joined en masse, and it has revealed just how much the past ten years online have absolutely rotted our brains.
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When I first opened the app, I expected to see an early-Twitter copycat. Instead, I was met with a feed of users parroting robotic and emoji-laden prompts, the same four jokes about being “unhinged,” and, of course, a car giveaway from Mr. Beast. Given the opportunity to build the social media culture we say we’ve been missing, we immediately resorted to posting the worst clichés from today’s internet. Is this post from a person, or a brand? Because they’re both employing the same hokey syntax to post empty engagement-bait.
This behavior says something about how we view social media now. It’s not for connection, but performance. It seems that many of the people who rushed to download this app did so to get in early on a rush for potential new followers, and in so doing, adopted digital personas that bear no resemblance to how a single human talks in real life. After years of being subliminally nudged towards this behavior through algorithm changes on other platforms, when given the opportunity to do something different on Threads, we came running back to the bland platitudes and low-hanging fruit we’ve been conditioned to rely on for engagement.
To do anything else is now extremely difficult. I myself froze when I went to make my first post. I knew that it didn’t matter—that there was no right way to post on a platform that’s so new—and yet I found myself typing and deleting a bunch of different things that I was afraid wouldn’t get any likes. And when I finally, after all that agonizing, did post, I got exactly three of them.
This experience is similar to the one I wrote about after the introduction of Substack Notes.
Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Substack will forever own the parts of my personality that I’ve handed over to them, as do the platforms from my past: Facebook still claims the extroverted college student; Tumblr, the angsty, artsy teen; MySpace, the confused and flailing twelve year old who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But it’s become harder and harder to harvest myself over the years—to find something new to offer up to the Next Big Thing.
When faced with this kind of digital identity crisis, I can’t blame anyone for instead playing it safe with tropes that see success elsewhere. The only problem is, it makes everyone sound the same—and Threads just another empty, algorithmic app.