My Internet: W. David Marx
The 'Status and Culture' author fears that we are overrun with kitsch.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome W. David Marx, the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style and Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change. He also writes the newsletter Culture: An Owner’s Manual.
David once wrote a satirical Medium post about French bakers and Kanye West that generated a wave of fake news, and he is quite skeptical that AI will really save us much time (or that we’ll do anything profound with the time we save). —Nick
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EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
W. DAVID MARX: I wrote an entire book, Status and Culture, trying to explain how status symbols work, and then Elon Musk taught everyone these same lessons instantly with the entire blue checkmark fiasco. The blue checkmark was an arbitrary marker that became a status symbol because it (1) had cachet (i.e. exclusive associations with high-status people such as celebrities), (2) had signaling costs (e.g. required you to have achieved something significant in broader society, and (3) could be acquired with an alibi (i.e. celebrities just got these checkmarks without having sought them out.) Musk’s new system (1) destroyed the cachet (associating them with Musk fanboys only), (2) reduced the costs to a small monthly fee, and (3) killed the alibi (people only have them because they actively decided to buy them), and as the theory portends, the blue check mark is now valueless. Surprisingly this threw the entire ecosystem into a mess.
And yet I still read it the first thing every morning…
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
W. DAVID MARX: I can imagine Bluesky becoming one, but it’s a bit of a nano-society at the moment.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
W. DAVID MARX: Ultimately I am there to help promote my writing, but I like to show off decrepit old buildings I encounter in Tokyo on long walks, books I’ve read or picked up at used book stores, and style photos from old Japanese magazines.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
W. DAVID MARX: I have been getting back into music production, and so I watch a lot of ProTools tutorials, videos that show the features of new synths and drum machines, and the series Bad Gear.
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
W. DAVID MARX: In 2013 I wrote a Medium post satire about French bakers and Kanye West that went so viral that it generated a wave of fake news in the mainstream media, most of which were retracted, and then an entire New Yorker article about why Americans would believe in the veracity of such an obviously not true thing. It was very stressful while it was happening, but within a few weeks, every single person in the entire world seemingly forgot that it ever happened.
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
W. DAVID MARX: I really like the writer Jason Diamond’s Twitter and Instagram. I want to live in a world where he’s the most popular social media influencer (and egg creams are much more popular than frappuccinos).
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
W. DAVID MARX: Twitter links to serious publications.
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive media trend? What’s one negative trend?
W. DAVID MARX: Negative is that everyone seems to be chasing a very small number of pop culture stories. Positive—sort of!—is that there is not enough time in the day to read all the talented writers all producing interesting content. Newsletters are great but there are many of them.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
W. DAVID MARX: If Books Could Kill is turning out to be the best podcast I’ve ever heard. It involves two extremely intelligent and experienced hosts reading the most notorious nonfiction bestsellers and tearing them apart in a truly satisfying way. No other podcast makes me laugh out loud and gives me crippling depression about the publishing industry at the same time.
EMBEDDED: Do you typically start searches on Google, Reddit, TikTok, or another source? Have you tried AI-powered search on Bing or elsewhere?
W. DAVID MARX: I still Google search almost everything. I really don’t like having to watch a video for instructions on how to do something. Give me text, please.
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI text and art generators? What most concerns you?
W. DAVID MARX: I am generally quite skeptical that these tools will really save us much time (or that we’ll do anything profound with the time we save), but the idea that AI can write us stock templated formal emails seems handy.
Culture is already overrun with kitsch, and I’m concerned that AI will make this problem a lot worse.
EMBEDDED: Do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and/or Web3?
W. DAVID MARX: All three will continue to be well known in the future as critical proper nouns for understanding 2020s tech industry boosterism.
EMBEDDED: Are you currently playing any games on your computer or phone?
W. DAVID MARX: Two Dots. Wordle.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
W. DAVID MARX: 😅 grinning face with sweat is crucial for anyone with a sunny demeanor and generalized anxiety.
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
W. DAVID MARX: I have been very into 100 Gecs’ 10,000 Gecs, Ween’s Pure Guava, and a playlist I made recently called Late Alternative (1995-1997) full of Nineties one-hit wonders like Wax’s “California,” The Refreshments’ “Banditos,” and Local H’s “Bound For the Floor”—all of which tap deeply into my memories from the two years we had an Alternative radio station in Pensacola where I grew up. L.F.T’s Salz is also a great new find.
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
W. DAVID MARX: I pay for YouTube Music. I sometimes buy CDs for things I can’t find online. The last vinyl record I bought was a reissue of the Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp soundtrack. “Magic Feeling” is an underrated bubblegum jam.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep one streaming service for TV and/or movies, which would it be, and why?
W. DAVID MARX: The Criterion Channel so I can continue to put off watching The Wicker Man and Playtime.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want but can’t seem to find anywhere online?
W. DAVID MARX: I would love immediate access to the original versions of MTV’s The State and The Wonder Years, not the available versions where they replaced the songs with soundalikes and alternatives.
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
W. DAVID MARX: I buy a lot of old Japanese things from Yahoo! Auctions—the Ebay of Japan. I find nice bargains on modernist woodblock prints, back issues of Men’s Club, musical equipment, and old eyeglasses.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
piece about a new genre of sub-clickbait videos where nothing happens. That phenomenon seems particularly representative of our moment.
W. DAVID MARX: There has been a lot of great writing about the 2020s decline of the internet. I really liked a recent
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
W. DAVID MARX: I don’t remember but I can guarantee that it will forever satiate me and alleviate the need to seek out any additional content.