Discover more from The Bluestocking
The Bluestocking, vol 277
those apples people buy with their lunch
So, I think I might be over social media?
I left Facebook years ago on the basis that it was forcing me to keep up with he lives of people I used to know. And also ruining democracy.
Even before the Elon Supremacy, Twitter had stopped being fun. Doing a tweet felt like flashing, as in—even if people responded appreciatively, I still felt like I had let myself down. And if they responded negatively, I felt exposed and humiliated. Also all the arguments never changed anything, nothing changed, none of it mattered, and I just felt going into people’s replies and posting this:
I loved being on TikTok—I still wonder what Conor from Durham Hearing Specialists has been up to lately with his Cawthorne hook1—but it did seem to be piping my data back to the Chinese state. So I deleted the app from my phone.
The reason everyone mocks Instagram—it’s the place where basics go to see inspirational quotes—is exactly why I’m still there. Sometimes all you want to do is be served incredibly well-targeted adverts for summer dresses between videos about ankle flexibility and pictures of your friends’ dogs. But I could probably live without it quite easily.
I initially resisted joining Threads because Hot People are to be seen and not heard: I don’t expect lobby journalists to be good at Downward Dog or wearing directional trousers, so why would influencers have worthwhile insights into news and current affairs?
Oh no, I thought, that’s not for me. I’ll try Blue Sky. That’s where the cool kids are hanging out, in their closed beta with their invite codes.
Cut to a couple of hours after me joining Blue Sky and posting an innocuous Succession meme:
Ah, I thought. Probably not for me. Then I suddenly perked up. Blue Sky is the Golgafrincham Ark Fleet Ship B of social media! Twitter can now be the holding pen for all the white supremacists, Bitcoin dead-enders and Elon simps, while Blue Sky can hermetically contain all the people who use the word “folx”, say things like “I hope you reflect on this” and think that me posting Succession memes is “making this space unsafe for sex workers.” Good luck to them.
That said, I did sign up for Threads in the end, just to watch the Meta threshing maw in action. The network effects of letting people import their Insta followings are obviously huge, and the brands clearly love the Nazi-free zone. But while Twitter felt like a rowdy pub at chucking-out time, Threads feels like a corporate box at a concert. Or, as this funny post puts it: “It feels like if an entire social network was those posts that tell you what successful entrepreneurs do before 6AM. . . The vibes on Threads are bad. Have you ever been high/drunk and you walk into a CVS and the security guard is staring at you? That’s what Threads is. It’s deodorants locked behind plastic.”
I am of course still on LinkedIn because I enjoy posts beginning “Hate to do the self-promotion thing, but. . .” Oh? Have you launched a podcast? Do tell me more.
For a decade, social media made identity-drudge-work—building a “personal brand”—feel like something approximate to fun. Now that’s back to feeling like work again, and it’s honestly much healthier for that to be the case. It is objectively better to talk to your friends in private than to perform your friendship in public. It is better not to know the worst opinions of your favourite actor. It is better not to hand control of The Discourse to the most online people out there.
Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you're clean, don’t mean you don’t miss it
Ten months older, I won't give in
Now that I’m clean, I'm never gonna risk it2
PS. What have I replaced social media with? Well, I took a call that I was never going to stop checking my phone, so I have pivoted to two apps to fill the screaming void in my soul. The first is Duolingo: after reading Kingdom of Characters on holiday, I wanted to challenge myself to learning a language that didn’t use the Roman alphabet. I’ve chosen Japanese, which has hiragana (a syllabic alphabet), rather than Chinese, which is purely ideograms. Experience suggests that Duolingo isn’t great at teaching you the language, but I would rather be using my brain constructively trying to remember how to write ku and ne than doom-scrolling, so I don’t mind.
The second brainhack is using the Kindle app on my iPhone to read explicitly undemanding books. I’ve accepted into my heart that you can take a horse (me) to 19th century doorstoppers and Modernist classics, but you can’t make it drink (read). Instead, I have detective fiction. I have whipped through the Thursday Murder Club and I’m on to the Peter Wimsey mysteries (start with Gaudy Night, even though it’s near the end of the run, it’s a banger). I might treat myself to a Terry Pratchett re-read at some point. Yes, I have probably read Feet of Clay five times already, but going in for a sixth is still a better use of my time than inhaling crazy through my eyeballs.
Justice for Teenage Taylor Swift (The Atlantic)
In that sense, then, the defanged lyric and mellower vocals in “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)” do at least reflect the awkwardness of engaging with a younger self. In her inability to regenerate the poison of the original track, Swift conjures the disquiet that comes from revisiting the period memorialized by the music of Speak Now. It evokes that feeling of opening an old diary full of entries written at a tricky age and immediately wanting to look away. Still, maybe Swift shouldn’t avert her gaze. When I listened to Speak Now for the first time as a teenager, I was shocked by how it contained the kind of scathing thoughts I sometimes wished I could voice. I couldn’t believe that Swift was able to convey, in the same album, devastating despair at a failed romance (“Dear John”), all-encompassing awe at the blossoming of a crush (“Enchanted”), and tender yearning for the simplicity of her childhood (“Never Grow Up”). And, yes, the “mattress” line in “Better Than Revenge” made me gasp.
As I listened to Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), I longed for that boldness.
Taylor Swift’s project to re-record all her albums is artistically fascinating—like asking which is the “real” Hamlet, it’s impossible to say which Speak Now is the authentic one. There’s a durational performance art element to it that I like. Part of me hopes she re-records the albums every decade.
Freakonomics, But For Medicine (Range, Substack)
David Epstein: In the book [Random Acts of Medicine] you go in detail through how increased transit time to the hospital around a marathon has an impact on death rates of people not involved in the marathon. But as with many natural experiments in the book, the effect is small. That said, it is often the case that those small effects impact a huge number of people, so they’re still important. What kind of effect size are we talking about here with marathons and mortality?
Anupam Jena: Just to give you a sense, the mortality rate for something like cardiac arrest or a heart attack goes up by about 15 to 20% on the day of a marathon. Now, most people are not having cardiac arrest or a heart attack, so the aggregate impact on a city might be limited. But I think if I were to talk to people about the Boston Marathon bombings, most people would say that was a horrific event. But more people die because of marathon-associated road closures every year in a given city with a large marathon than died in the Boston Marathon bombings. But the bombings, what they did are so salient to us. Deaths in these other channels, we don’t even think about that.
I knew running was bad for you.
Correction of the week:
Some of you will know my obsession with “Buckle Up Twitter”, where people rail against historical figures in the mistaken belief that no one has ever contested their reputation before. (My favourite quote from that article: “There was a thread “calling out” King Leopold of Belgium.”) Anyway, I was delighted to see a Buckle Up Thread in the wild. Did you know Napoleon was a bit of a megalomaniac?????
Damian Lewis jazz-singing the National Anthem is pure and beautiful. The sax. The Red Arrows. That vibrato. The logo of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund at the end.
Dan Hodges on what his mother’s death taught him about the NHS (Daily Mail).
Who killed Google Reader? (The Verge)
One of the most active social justice patrollers on RationalWiki—who made intelligence researchers a particular focus because of the discipline’s links to race science—had past as a keen poster on neo-Nazi forums (City Journal).
This article about Warner Bros/Discovery CEO David Zaslav was so spicy that GQ first edited it without the writer’s permission, and then pulled it entirely (Archived). PS: One sad result of all the mergers and changeovers in TV in recent years, combined with move from DVDs to streaming, is trend for companies “disappearing their underperforming originals for tax purposes, creating giant swaths of shockingly recent yet bafflingly ‘lost’ media.”
“‘I’ll Read That Later’ might be a better title in a lot of cases—I’d put money on an awful lot of them sitting on open tabs for weeks or months like those apples people buy with their lunch with the best of intentions and then leave on their desks to go all wrinkly and finally get thrown away.” Savage burn from my new podcast partner Adam Macqueen in this Press Gazette story on longreads.
Pwingys: I too am still thinking about this Reddit story a year on. I wonder how it turned out.
The Wonka trailer is very hmm. Why are there so many Brits in it? Is Keegan-Michael Key the only American actor capable of delivering “eccentric”?
“The room, which included a handful of journalists as well as RFK Jr.’s campaign manager, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was stunned, seemingly unsure about whether Dechert was farting at Haden-Guest personally or at the very notion of global warming.” Every line in this is more deranged than the last (Page Six).
Correction corner: I am informed that Trump was eulogizing RBG, not Her Maj, to the strains of Tiny Dancer in the clip featured in last week’s newsletter. My apologies.
Call me, Conor. Tell me what happened to that guy with the aspergillus who was waiting on an ENT appointment.
I mean, I’m still on WhatsApp, I’m not a stylite. And I guess Substack counts, too.