On the disappearance of tween-specific fashion trends, and the epidemic of Posting Disease plaguing social media. Also: a man on a mission.
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- Apple Transcripts: https://podnews.net/article/apple-podcasts-transcriptions-faq
- Ring and the Police: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2024/01/ring-announces-it-will-no-longer-facilitate-police-requests-footage-users
- Social CEOS on Capital Hill: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2024-01-30/social-media-ceos-brace-for-senate-scrutiny-on-child-safety-what-to-expect?srnd=undefined
- CDC Youth Health Summary: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBS_Data-Summary-Trends_Report2023_508.pdf
- Evan Greer on KOSA: https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjven5/elizabeth-warren-just-backed-an-online-safety-bill-that-will-harm-lgbtq-youth
Disappearing Tween Fashion Links
Never Post’s producers are Audrey Evans, Georgia Hampton and The Mysterious Dr. Firstname Lastname. Our senior producer is Hans Buetow. Our executive producer is Jason Oberholtzer. The show’s host is Mike Rugnetta.
CC-BY Licensed Audio Used
2010 Pop by Akira Sora at Free Music Archive
Dream Pop by Holizna CC0 at Free Music Archive
Retro Synths by Holizna CC0 at Free Music Archive
TX automatically generated by Transistor
Mike Rugnetta: 00:02
Friends, hello, and welcome to Never Post, a podcast about the Internet. I'm your host, Mike Rugnetta. Normally, at the top of the show, I'll say something like, let's talk about what happened since the last time you heard from us. But since this is the first time you've heard from us, let's talk about what you can expect from this and most future episodes of Never Post. Then, we'll talk about what's happening.
Mike Rugnetta: 00:26
Never post is a show in segments. 3 each episode. This intro and 2 story segments, all separated by short interstitials. You'll almost always hear me first, but story segments will be led by all kinds of people. Me, never post producers, guests, collaborators, and sometimes, you, our listeners.
Mike Rugnetta: 00:47
To that point, a lot of segments are gonna end asking for your input. Listen until the end of each segment to find out how you can get a hold of us. There are several ways, and you should use whichever is best for you. There's a lot more that I wanna talk about. We got a growth plan.
Mike Rugnetta: 01:02
There's a lot more other than podcast episodes that we wanna make and give to the online audio community, but I've gone on long enough without saying anything fun or interesting. So let's do this. If you're free, please join us, on my personal Twitch account, twitch.tvforward/microgennetta, on Friday, February 9th at 2 PM Eastern, where we're gonna celebrate the launch of the show. We'll talk about how we made this episode, how we plan to make future ones. We would love to answer questions if you have them.
Mike Rugnetta: 01:33
We would love to simply hang out. We have been planning this and putting it together for a long time, so I think a little celebration and, let's call it debriefing is in order. Alright. I think that's all the stage setting done. Here is where we will normally start things.
Mike Rugnetta: 01:58
Friends, hello, and welcome to Never Post, a podcast about the Internet. I'm your host, Michael Gennetta. This introduction was written at 1 PM Eastern on Tuesday, January 30th. Let's talk about what's happening. In a massive win for accessibility, and folks who have no idea what the hell I just said in future episodes of Never Post, Apple Podcasts announced it would start including transcripts in the app.
Mike Rugnetta: 02:25
It'll auto populate transcripts uploaded with episodes, or Apple will auto generate transcripts through speech recognition if the show opts in. Transcripts will auto advance alongside the episode as you're listening, and they are, get this, copy pastable and searchable. It seems like transcripts will take 24 hours or more to process, and this was just announced, so not yet fully rolled out. It might take a little bit before you see it everywhere. You can read more about this on pod news from last week.
Mike Rugnetta: 02:56
There's a link in the show notes. In another massive win, Ring, the video doorbell company owned by Amazon, will be ending its practice of allowing local police to request, without a warrant, video gathered by the technology. At one point, Ring allowed police to email video door bell owners directly to request footage. Ring eventually required police to post public requests for footage on the Neighbors app, and now police are gonna have to get a warrant or prove to Ring that a suitable emergency is ongoing. It could be better, but it has been worse.
Mike Rugnetta: 03:36
This, I think, is a win for neighborhoods everywhere. Ring is all over the place where I live, and it really is nothing more than a fan for already roaring flames of paranoia. And personally, I think it should be a lot harder for private corporations to develop surveillance partnerships with the police. You can read more about this at eff.organdbloomberg. Links in the show notes.
Mike Rugnetta: 04:07
Finally, today, Wednesday, January 31st, the day after I've recorded this, CEOs of Meta, X Snap, TikTok, and Discord will be on Capitol Hill in Washington DC testifying in front of Congress about digital safety for children on their platforms. This is on the heels of a CDC report 3 years ago showing sadness and hopelessness are on the rise amongst teens, and a number of other unrelated studies that for certain demographics suggest that could be because of Instagram, among other things. There's also mounting pressure on platforms from the Act, was reintroduced last year and is nominally geared towards Act, was reintroduced last year and is nominally geared towards protecting kids online, but all the folks I trust the most see it as enabling further government surveillance of online activity. Anyway, I don't doubt that social media is part of the cocktail of things making young people's lives harder, but I really I also wonder when congress is gonna get all the fossil fuel CEOs in the room to talk about climate safety for children. I'm gonna start holding my breath now.
Mike Rugnetta: 05:25
Did it happen? Did they do it? Did it they no? Shocker. We got a great show for you this week.
Mike Rugnetta: 05:34
Our first segment is about fashion trends for tweens and what happens when legions of individuals attempt to brand themselves as unique influencers on social media, especially TikTok. And then we're gonna have a chat about a particular online affliction known varyingly as posting disease or poster madness. In between each segment this episode and right now, in fact, we will join a man on a mission. Hans Buto, never posts, senior producer, filed this audio from Minnesota.
Hans Buetow: 06:29
And here we are. Cub Foods in Roseville, Minnesota. It is cold out today. Very cold out today. January Minnesota.
Hans Buetow: 06:46
Turns out it's cold. Alright. Let's look for 5 crackers, condiments, cookies, bread. Cub foods, 6. Snacks, seasonal popcorn.
Hans Buetow: 07:02
Oh, there it is. Aisle 8, soft drinks, juice tea, beer, and mixers. Alright. Coca Cola products. Coke.
Hans Buetow: 07:13
Coke. Coke. Coke. There they are. Doctor Pepper.
Hans Buetow: 07:18
Alright. We got red box, Doctor Pepper, established 18/85. Doctor Pepper 0 Sugar, red and black box. Diet Doctor Pepper, white box. Doctor Pepper cream soda, white and no.
Hans Buetow: 07:33
Cream and red box. What is that? Sideways Doctor Pepper cream soda 0 sugar, cream and black box, Doctor Pepper cherry, blue and red box, Doctor Pepper Cherry 0 Sugar Blue and Black box. What is this one? Doctor Pepper strawberries and cream, 0 sugar, pink and black box.
Hans Buetow: 07:55
There's one missing. Maybe that's ours. No. Doctor Pepper strawberries and cream is missing. They have all these flavors, and none of them are the one we want.
Hans Buetow: 08:10
Well, gee golly. It looks like it might be true.
Mike Rugnetta: 09:42
The first segment that you're gonna hear in this episode of Never Post is from Georgia Hampton, who is with me right now. Hey, Georgia.
Georgia Hampton: 09:52
Mike Rugnetta: 09:53
How you doing?
Georgia Hampton: 09:53
I'm great. I'm doing fabulously.
Mike Rugnetta: 09:56
I don't think we're gonna do this sort of thing, sort of like segment introduction, bit every time, every episode. But since we're all new here, I thought this might be a fun and good opportunity to just say hello, and to, like, do a little introduction maybe because you come to Neverpost from a sort of, like, succession of interesting places. Am I right?
Georgia Hampton: 10:21
Yes. I mean, high praise. Very kind of you to say that. But, yeah, the way I have found my way here is perhaps a little different than the way you or any of the other producers have. My background is in culture journalism.
Georgia Hampton: 10:36
That's what I got my master's degree in. For the last 3 years or so, I was working as a scriptwriter for Spotify in their true crime studio, which was
Mike Rugnetta: 10:47
Georgia Hampton: 10:48
Yeah. It was,
Mike Rugnetta: 10:50
The way that you have described it to me in the past is it sounds like the deepest portion of the content lines.
Georgia Hampton: 10:56
Oh, absolutely. A 100%. Like, I became very popular with women my mom's age. Everyone, and by everyone, I I do mean women of a certain age, are like, oh my god. What's the most messed up thing you've ever written about?
Georgia Hampton: 11:13
And we'll be like, over dinner or something, and I'm like, Sharon, listen. I don't think you really wanna do this with me right now. Like, it's not it's not gonna be fun for you. Like, I don't wanna do this.
Mike Rugnetta: 11:25
This segment that we're about to hear is, like, really just in another another place because it's about, tween fashion. And so I'm just curious, like, what drew you to that?
Georgia Hampton: 11:37
Well, I mean, after my time in what I would call the murder minds, I was done with that subject and was interested in doing something else. But my interests have always been in culture and the elements of culture that become normalized or overlooked or are affected by different kinds of media entertainment, the way we use social media, all of that. And this is something actually that I had been thinking about months before we even started working together. Like, this is something I was I was getting ready to pitch as a piece. But it was something where I say in the segment, like, it was being discussed on TikTok in this kind of, What what is going on here?
Georgia Hampton: 12:21
What does this mean? And that's, like, my favorite kind of topic.
Mike Rugnetta: 12:26
Another kind of mystery.
Georgia Hampton: 12:27
Mike Rugnetta: 12:28
Not a not a not a murder.
Georgia Hampton: 12:31
Mike Rugnetta: 12:31
not a murder as such.
Georgia Hampton: 12:33
No. Crucially not a murder. There are no, you know, body parts being found in the woods or whatever. Thank god.
Mike Rugnetta: 12:39
Okay. Good. I'm gonna say that's real as hell. Should we go on with the segment?
Georgia Hampton: 12:45
Yes. Let's let's get in there. Let's
go. Okay. Alright. So I'm just gonna ask you about what you were talking about the other night. So tell me about that, about how some of the kids at your school dressed.
Kevin's Daughter: 13:08
Okay. A lot of the girls in my grade dress just like their moms. That's what I found. They all dress like, I don't mean this as an insult. If I could live this life, I would.
Kevin's Daughter: 13:23
But, kind of like a stay at home mom who runs errands all day and goes to the gym whenever she can because both the girls at my school and their moms always wear Lululemon.
Georgia Hampton: 13:41
That's a conversation between a friend of the show, Kevin, and his daughter, who's 13 years old. And what she's talking about here is this strange thing that seems to be happening.
Kevin's Daughter: 13:54
It's like sometimes I'll, like, see an older woman from behind, and I'll be like, is that, like, so and so from my school? No. That is somebody that could be their mom.
Georgia Hampton: 14:08
That just feels so weird to me. And listen, I'm 30 years old. This is a world I'm not a part of anymore, but when I was 13, it would have been mortifying to dress like your mom. It would also be extremely bizarre. I'm imagining myself arriving at school in a pair of black stretchy capris with a loose knit leopard print sweater and perhaps a decorative beaded necklace, like just showing up to 8th grade history class in h to t Chico's, it's unimaginable.
Georgia Hampton: 14:46
When I was in that 9 to 12 tween age bracket back in the mid 2000, I had my own ecosystem of fashion that felt like it was made specifically for me, and that's because it was. Limited 2, Klairs, Justice, Libby Lou, a whole suite of brands whose thing was making clothes and accessories for young girls like me, or frankly, making an entire space for young girls. And over the last 10 years or so, pretty much all of those places disappeared, and I wondered if that had anything to do with what I and Kevin's daughter have noticed happening. I wanna paint you a picture. The inside of a limited 2 was this color coded, candy scented fantasy world for girls.
Georgia Hampton: 15:37
Everything was blue and green or pink and orange. The store had a huge light up pink daisy on the ceiling, and the carpet was this super bright Barney shade of purple. Over by the register, you could buy push pops or baby bottle pops or bubble tape. Famously, you could get your ears pierced, which I did. And limited 2 was just one of a bunch of places that looked like this.
Georgia Hampton: 16:04
Growing up, there was even a tween home goods store called dry ice at the mall near me available for all my beaded curtain, lava lamp, blow up pink lounge chair needs. That's what made all these brands different. They created a tween look, a tween demographic. Everything there was funky without being offensive or cool in the eyes of an 11 year old, but not like dangerously cool. This wasn't Hot Topic or God forbid Spencer's gifts.
Georgia Hampton: 16:36
Nothing at Limited 2 would get you sent to the principal's office. It was PG rated fashion. But now, obviously, things are very different. Limited 2 left the mall in 2010. Libby Lou declared bankruptcy.
Georgia Hampton: 16:53
Then Claire's. Then Justice. And that was it. No other stores stepped in to take the daisy clad hot pink plastic blow up throne of tween fashion. Like I said, I'm not a tween but even I noticed this and a lot of other people did too, especially on TikTok.
Georgia Hampton: 17:14
The 10 year olds have nowhere to go. They know where to go. There seems to no longer be a market for specifically preteen and teenage girls.
Everybody keeps talking about how it's 10 and 12 year olds in Sephora and Ulta, but they're not talking about how there's no tween stage of life anymore. Once you turn, like, 10, 11, 12, you start jumping and doing stuff that you do, like, at 17, 18 because there's no gap in between because everybody forgot about the fact that kids are children even as teenagers.
Georgia Hampton: 17:40
Know where to go. What this tells me is that when it comes to fashion, the tween demographic isn't really important to brands anymore. So what is?
Dr. Wissinger: 17:53
My name is professor Elizabeth Wissinger. I am a professor of sociology at the CUNY Community College of Borough Manhattan Community College, BMCC. I am a professor of liberal studies with a concentration in fashion studies at the CUNY Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and I am really interested in how technologies and bodies interact in ways that affect society over time.
Georgia Hampton: 18:23
I talked with professor Wissinger to understand what had taken the place of the quote unquote tween brand. And perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a lot going on here, and there's a lot of factors at play. But according to professor Wissinger, it all starts with the rise of the social Internet. Before we had Twitter and TikTok and Instagram, changes in fashion were dictated by a very small, very specific set of gatekeepers.
Dr. Wissinger: 18:52
You had to be an editor at a fashion magazine, or you had to be somebody photographed in a street style blog. And prior to blogs, you had to be a fashion model or somebody who was going to the shows who might be photographed outside the tents or or a socialite.
Georgia Hampton: 19:07
This meant that the pool of people making decisions was small. And then with the social Internet, that power started to shift. You weren't only looking at magazines, you were looking at people online, on Instagram or YouTube or more recently TikTok, especially TikTok.
Get ready when we buy barbecue shoes.
Do you wanna
do it for me for picture day?
Welcome to a
day in my life as a full time content creator. I woke up this morning and got ready, just threw on a cute little tracksuit, made my bed.
What to wear when you don't know what to wear.
So first, we need concealer.
Dr. Wissinger: 19:45
The opportunity to create an online presence for yourself, market yourself, become a brand in and of yourself became an option. But brands always have associations. They don't have any meaning unless they're connected to other brands out there in the brand universe. So when you're doing self branding, you are using the tools of branding to present a persona that will gain you
Georgia Hampton: 20:13
Internet connection, you could in theory start establishing yourself as a tastemaker, someone to be taken seriously, a person with special and unique ideas about fashion. You can build your own little island around yourself as a voice worth listening to. You can do it. Anyone can do it. Everyone can do it, but that comes with its own problem.
Dr. Wissinger: 20:37
A lot of individual voices create kind of like a cacophony that ends up sort of blending into just one loud sound, and it sort of flattens out the individual inflection of individualized personalities in terms of how the public interprets them.
Georgia Hampton: 20:53
It's this shaving down of nuance. Everyone is an individual online, but because everyone is unique, no one is. It's a weird tension between wanting to be special and different, but also attractive to a lot of people.
Dr. Wissinger: 21:11
It's like you wanna appeal to the masses with your individuality, which has been the conundrum of being fashionable since the beginning of fashion, but now it's like on steroids with the fact that everyone can be a fashion influencer if they use these tools.
Georgia Hampton: 21:26
What matters here is bridging that gap between uniqueness and accessibility. A fashion trend should be interesting, which means it should have something new to say or a new take on an old idea, but you don't wanna limit your potential audience, and declaring any given trend as a tween style just doesn't seem to make sense anymore, or as professor Wissinger put it.
Dr. Wissinger: 21:52
It seems that it's less lucrative to to limit your marketing to specific age group now than it was then. So if you're a teen and you're showing how to construct a look, if you wanna go viral with your post, you don't wanna post, this look is for teens. You want everybody interested in your look. And if you're an older, more mature influencer, you're not gonna say, well, these outfits are only good for 50 and older. You may go in as a mature influencer and say, look, I can look like this as a 50 and older, but really, you can learn from my look no matter what age you are.
Georgia Hampton: 22:26
That's why you get 13 year olds dressing like their athleisure moms because the marketing is for as many people as possible. Age specific trends just don't matter in the way they might have in the 2000. What does matter is having trends that are appealing and interesting to the widest margin of people regardless of how old they are. So for a girl aged 10 to 12, the question is no longer, what does a tween girl my age dress like? It's just, who do you wanna be?
Georgia Hampton: 23:00
It's more about an aesthetic than anything else. You can be goblin core if you're into collecting little trinkets and wearing brown and green, or maybe you're a coastal grandma, which means you basically dress how Diane Keaton currently dresses, turtlenecks and lots of linen. Whatever hyper specific niche you're looking for, there's a mood board for it. The point is that you're the tastemaker of your specific individual style. Well, you and your algorithm.
Dr. Wissinger: 23:34
I mean, there are suites of products that people are identified with in terms of the algorithms that look at, like, where you shop, when you shop, how you shop, what do you buy. Like, all of those that information is being processed all the time. So the Lululemon people, the kids and the moms might be just inside a very narrowly defined algorithmic space that markets very specifically to that income bracket, geographic location, that zip code, that private's goal.
Georgia Hampton: 24:06
Okay. So instead of your age mattering in regards to fashion trends, it's more about where the algorithm can place you. Geographically, sure, but also monetarily, your race, your aesthetic interests, a whole host of other signifiers, but not necessarily your age. So instead of limited to existing as a tween only space, you have trends that are catering to a specific vibe, a specific corner of the algorithmic space that the machine brain of the Internet has placed you into based on your measurable qualities, but that has its limits. Sure, the algorithm can give you this extremely curated experience that is handpicked for you specifically.
Georgia Hampton: 24:55
But if there's just more of a certain kind of content and it becomes inescapable, the more you interact with it, the more the algorithm thinks you like it, rinse and repeat forever. To put it another way, those kids Kevin's daughter was talking about, like, I'm sure their TikTok for you page looks different than mine, but it might not look different from other women my age who might, I don't know, be into athleisure in a major way.
Kevin's Daughter: 25:30
I, like, was scrolling on TikTok, and I see, like like, this girl dancing and then her mom. And they were wearing almost identical outfits, but one was blue and the other one was pink. They looked the same, but one was like 20 years older. I was kind of like, wow. This is real.
Kevin's Daughter: 25:55
I don't know.
Georgia Hampton: 25:59
Thanks to Kevin and his daughter for sharing their thoughts, and thanks to professor Elizabeth Wissinger for her fascinating insight on all of this. You can read more of her work online and in her book, This Year's Model, Fashion, Media and the Making of Glamour. There's
Georgia Hampton: 26:17
Georgia Hampton: 26:18
part of this story that didn't make it into the episode because I'm kind of still parsing through it. Basically, I think there's something really wonderful about kids being able to create their own fashion identity in this super individual way, but I also think it's weird that middle school girls are being mistaken for their own parents based on the way they dress. And I wanna hear what you think about this. How does this strike you? How does it make you feel?
Georgia Hampton: 26:46
Call us and leave us a voice mail, send us a voice memo, write us an email, all of the ways you can get a hold of us are down in the show notes.
Hans Buetow: 28:46
Oh, here comes someone with a cart full of Doctor. Peppers. Excuse me, sir. Hey.
Hans Buetow: 28:59
ask you a question? Sure. Do you all do you have caffeine free diet Doctor Pepper?
Caffeine free. 0 caffeine free. No.
Hans Buetow: 29:09
No. You don't have caffeine free?
Yeah. We have the 0. We have the diet, and we have regular. That's the caffeine free.
Hans Buetow: 29:15
0 diet and regular, but not caffeine free?
Hans Buetow: 29:18
Oh, can you not get it? No.
It doesn't come. I've never seen more natural.
Hans Buetow: 29:23
You've never seen it?
Yeah. Uh-uh. Cold foods or target here at work. Nothing. Some other stores, my habits.
Hans Buetow: 29:29
We have Pepsi, caffeine free.
Hans Buetow: 29:32
Okay. But not doctor Pepper. Alright. Thank you.
Hans Buetow: 29:35
Oh, what's your name? Lloyd. I'm Hans. Lloyd. Thank you.
Hans Buetow: 29:38
Alright. That was a Lloyd, the Pepsi delivery guy. Alright. Well, on to the next.
Mike Rugnetta: 30:09
Sometimes the Internet makes me feel a little crazy, as I'm sure it does you too. Social media, especially. My friend Tim once used this phrase, diabolic merriment, which I think about often as the sort of like tizzy one can get in caught in the swirling tides of online. For instance, you know, like sometimes I stay up a little late. I think I don't have work tomorrow.
Mike Rugnetta: 30:35
I'll have a little scroll.
Hans Buetow: 30:37
Mike Rugnetta: 30:37
all know how this goes. Diabolic merriment. Then I'm up till the wee dark and the next morning I have Scrollers remorse. A different kind of social hangover. But I couldn't tear myself away.
Mike Rugnetta: 30:54
I'm lucky, though, maybe, in that while I often spend too much time looking, I almost never spend that time posting. Not anymore at least. Perhaps you're getting a little insight into why this show is named what it is. I don't really desire to contribute most of the time in posts because I know what it can lead to. I've lived it and I've learned that kind of thing is not for me, especially on social media sites like, Twitter or X and Blue Sky, etcetera.
Mike Rugnetta: 31:25
But some people, they live for it. They need the attention. Or some byproduct of it. They just can't stop themselves. Another friend of mine, Bijan Steven, said something to me once that I also think about often.
Mike Rugnetta: 31:45
A turn of phrase that is perhaps the other side of the diabolic merriment coin. And that turn of phrase is what this segment is about. Joining me now is Bijan Stephen. Bijan is a writer and narrative designer. He's written and reported for Vice, Vox.com, and The Verge.
Mike Rugnetta: 32:07
He worked as a senior editor at Campside Media, where he hosted, reported, and produced the narrative history podcast, Eclipsed, and the true crime series, Chameleon. He's currently a music critic at The Nation and a contract writer at Valve. Bijan and I also spend a lot of time together playing the actual play podcast Fun City, where Bijan is the mysterious retired boxer TK. Bijan, welcome. It is very strange and fun to talk to you in a podcast setting where there are no dice involved.
Bijan Stephen: 32:36
Yeah. I it's a little weird, but I'm I'm liking the lack of a dice roller. I'm gonna be honest, they're not terribly nice to me. But thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Mike Rugnetta: 32:46
I have like a a big real question for you. Mhmm. With some background. So a while ago, you and I were hanging out and we were talking about the Internet, as we are want to do. And you said something to me that has just stuck like a quill in my brain ever since.
Mike Rugnetta: 33:07
It is a turn of phrase that I found so immediately resonant that, like, I cannot stop thinking about it. You described someone as having posting disease. The disease of posters. Of people who post things on the Internet. But, crucially, it seems like it's not everyone who posts has posting disease.
Mike Rugnetta: 33:29
Only certain people. So I was wondering, just to get us started, right off the bat, you could just describe what is posting disease?
Bijan Stephen: 33:40
Yeah. Of course. Posting disease, also known as posters madness, is, what happens to your brain, when you've been online too long and you start seeing the world and experiencing reality in terms of the post you're going to make about it. When you've spent so much time online that everything looks like a post to you or a potential post
Mike Rugnetta: 33:58
to me. Okay. This is interesting because I think of posting disease as when someone posts on the Internet and either just the action of posting or the very content of the post is going to be directly harmful to them.
Bijan Stephen: 34:18
So to be clear, like, the act of posting is bad for them, and they know it, and they do it anyway?
Hans Buetow: 34:23
Bijan Stephen: 34:25
Yeah. I think that's related. Because I think I think I think one is, the early symptoms and one is the far more advanced disease.
Mike Rugnetta: 34:33
Which one is the advanced side?
Bijan Stephen: 34:35
I think I really they like that when you've when everyone in your life is like, I hate what you're doing. I hate your posts, and I hate you because of them. And, you know, you can't stop doing that or seeing the world in those terms. Like, if you're, for example, like, Graham Lineham, the guy who created the IT Crowd.
Mike Rugnetta: 34:52
Hey, Mike here. I just wanna break in really quickly to say, in case you don't know, Graham Linehan is a British TV producer who worked on Father Ted, Black Books, and the IT crowd. He has spent the last several years waging an unceasingly cruel crusade against the trans community online. By his own account, this has made his life much harder. Or as Bijan goes on to say,
Bijan Stephen: 35:13
like, you just you lose your mind, you lose your wife, then you lose your job, and then you lose your agents, and you descend into a hell of your own making, which is just populated by your thoughts about the world. And there's a bunch of people you can see agreeing with you, but nobody else in your real life appears to. And I think it takes months of posts like that before you sort of get to you really have full blown posters disease.
Mike Rugnetta: 35:40
Do you think that posting disease is a kind of addiction to social media that clouds otherwise open and receptive parts of your personality? Or do you think it, like, it's bigger than that or or less?
Bijan Stephen: 35:57
I think it's I I I feel like it's an unfortunate consequence of living on an Internet that people have decided needs to make a ton of money. Like, the the reasons that posting disease and develops into posters madness, etcetera, are specifically because of the incentives. Right? Like, algorithmically sorted feeds reward certain kinds of posts and don't reward other kinds of posts. And once you've learned how to get the algorithm to notice your posts, that's where the disease sort of begins to develop.
Bijan Stephen: 36:27
And I think because all of these algorithms to a larger or lesser extent prioritize engagement, which means, like, engagement from all of the other users seeing your post, Any post with, like, sufficiently inflammatory or out there or just weird ideas can get picked up because other people are either dunking on it, which is another signal to the algorithm. This is more engagement. Like because, like, the other thing, engagement is neutral. It's like, to an algorithm, a dunk is the same as, like, not a dunk. It's the same kind of engagement.
Bijan Stephen: 36:58
The more people hate it, the more it gets shared, the more it gets dunked on, the more engagement you get. I mean and all of these, like, behaviors are positively reinforced by, like, the numbers. Right? The metrics go up when you do these things. This is a very seductive illness.
Bijan Stephen: 37:14
It's like something that truly, like, it takes hold very subtly, and then when you realize maybe what's happening, you're kind of in too deep to stop. Those decisions, those behind the scenes technical decisions of what to weight more heavily and what to promote and what not to promote, I think, are the things that actually induce posting disease in people. Because the human brain is not designed to produce as much dopamine, kind of. Like, every notification gives you a little hit of a good feeling. And I think that, specifically, the act of being able to receive positive reinforcement at a at a distance.
Mike Rugnetta: 37:50
It's like summon it. You can, like, you can you can really, like, cast a spell and have it brought to you.
Bijan Stephen: 37:56
And it's it's really powerful, especially if you're feeling lonely or isolated or somewhere where you can't really get that affirmation in real life. I think it's it's really powerful, but it's a double edged sword. Right? Like, it's it it can be really good for you or really bad for you. And it can both be good and bad at the same time, which I think is the confusing part about all of this.
Mike Rugnetta: 38:14
Okay. So now that we have, like, a sort of theoretical backbone and a definition, I wonder if we can get practical and just talk about what are some things out in the world that are the biggest examples of posting disease or even, like, people who exhibit it almost, like, paradigmatically?
Bijan Stephen: 38:34
Yeah. I think, the most obvious answer, is Elon Musk. I think Graham Lineham, who I mentioned earlier, another guy who suffers from posting disease. I think, any turf in the UK, all the Mumsnet posters, those those people are fucking nuts.
Mike Rugnetta: 38:50
What do they all share that makes that puts them in this group?
Bijan Stephen: 38:55
They share, they share, a desire to be victimized, to be the victim, of whatever situation they're in. I think they also seem to share, like, this this basic sense of aggrievedness. Like, they are they are perpetually crotchety about something in society. Like, they want to convince people that their views are correct about things and that the way they see the world is the right way to see it.
Mike Rugnetta: 39:24
That's a big thing, I think, for this group of people specifically, like Elon Musk, Graham, JK Rowling.
Bijan Stephen: 39:31
Mike Rugnetta: 39:32
It's like they all seem like they really they want a very specific group of people to like them.
Bijan Stephen: 39:38
Mike Rugnetta: 39:39
And for some reason, they view posting as the main way to do that. Yes. And it it seems like instead what is happening is that for each of them, it is just ruining
Bijan Stephen: 39:50
them. Posture's madness in in its most full blown forms is like it's like drinking seawater. Like, yeah, maybe you'll feel a little less thirsty, and then you'll feel much more thirsty. It's never going to accomplish a thing you want it to.
Mike Rugnetta: 40:02
But I think we should say also, or we should recognize that this is a very particular stripe of posting madness. And that to me, there is there is another stripe of it, which is like Chrissy Teigen, who has Yeah. Publicly admitted. She's like, I have like, I gotta step away. I am doing this too much.
Mike Rugnetta: 40:20
And then couldn't. And, like, you know
Bijan Stephen: 40:22
She also has not seemed to have posted on Twitter since May 8th. So there is hope.
Mike Rugnetta: 40:26
Or, like, does Alyssa Milano belong in this grouping at all?
Bijan Stephen: 40:30
Mike Rugnetta: 40:31
Okay. So what what why? You're looking at the post right now. Can you tell us why?
Bijan Stephen: 40:36
Resistance posters are also, like, they they fall into this category because they do think post online are equivalent to taking actions in the real world, like, with your physical hands and legs and stuff. And the idea that you have to weigh in on everything that happens in your specific domain is is is a sign. It's, like, that's another symptom.
Mike Rugnetta: 40:56
I think of Alyssa Milano as belonging to a group of people who have a posting madness that also includes, like, say, Brooklyn dad defiant.
Bijan Stephen: 41:06
Yeah. The resistance grifter. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Mike Rugnetta: 41:08
Yeah. Another sort of, like, yeah. Resistance grifter or, you know, depending upon who you talk to, like, Democratic party operative, liberal shit poster is something I've seen people describe him as. People who are doing this kind of, fight picking. You know?
Mike Rugnetta: 41:24
It's like every post is arguing against some imagined interlocutor who might never actually exist or interact with them.
Bijan Stephen: 41:33
Right. You make up a guy and get fucking mad at them. That's a
Mike Rugnetta: 41:36
classic Make you make up a guy. The classic move.
Bijan Stephen: 41:40
Make up a guy. I think, the most enduring discourses are, like, the low stakes cultural friction ones. Like, where it's, like, washing your legs. White people don't wash their legs. That was a discourse.
Bijan Stephen: 41:50
The dress, another kind of it wasn't really a discourse, but it was, like, the kind of thing that is extremely low stakes that everyone can have an opinion on and everyone can do a riff on. Because, you know, it's that's the whole thing is where you can do you see it? Or do you not see it? Or what are you seeing? You know?
Mike Rugnetta: 42:07
And it's something you can have a perspective about what's right
Bijan Stephen: 42:10
on. Exactly. And it's so low stakes that it does not matter.
Mike Rugnetta: 42:14
Maybe the the sort of hierarchy that we're developing here as far as what meaningful vectors of posting disease are, is that all trends are low level vectors of posting disease. It is possible that they will trigger its development, but that any amount of discourse is a stronger vector. And the more one can reasonably say that they are correct about their take on that discourse, the stronger the vector for posting disease it is. So something like the dress is, like, I think probably very low likelihood that someone could be insistent that their perspective on it is absolutely factually right. Whereas Right.
Mike Rugnetta: 43:00
Washing your legs, something that I feel like is maybe a middle of the road, you can more vociferously defend your position as being correct, especially, I think, if your position is wash the legs because that feels like moral high ground.
Bijan Stephen: 43:13
Yes. I think the Internet is is flattening in the way that it does not seem to allow people to have two thoughts about the world at the same time. Nuance is not incentivized, and I think that's why posting in the gray area about gray area subjects is always going to lead to, like, stronger, worse opinions, because other people could be right. You know? Yeah.
Bijan Stephen: 43:33
If you're recognizing yourself in some of these examples, maybe it's time to take a second and think. Because I do think this is not untreatable. It's not like something it's not a death sentence. It's not like an a social death sentence, I should say. You just have to, like, sit down and rethink what's going on.
Bijan Stephen: 43:49
Like, you you just need to to make sure that your engagement with these social platforms and the Internet at large is something that is positive and healthy and generative and not something that's, you know, making you feel terrible all the time. Like, if you're wondering why people are just yelling at you all day in your mentions, the problem is you.
Mike Rugnetta: 44:07
To follow our epidemiological metaphor that we have with posting disease, at least, less so posting madness, I wonder if we could get prescriptive. And to say Sure. You, the poster, the imagined poster, here are the things that you can do, the preventative measures that you can take to prevent yourself from contracting this illness. What is the pre post safety checklist, that that we can put together?
Bijan Stephen: 44:40
Yeah. That's a good idea. I I think, knowing what your post is about and what your real intentions with it are. Are you trying to promote something? Are you trying to start some discourse?
Bijan Stephen: 44:49
Are you trying to respond to some discourse? Are you subtweeting? Like, are you what are what are you doing? Second thing is thinking about the potential impact of your post on your life. Is this going to make your life marginally worse in the next 20 minutes to 2 days?
Bijan Stephen: 45:04
And if so, like, just don't don't do it if you can't handle it. You know, like, if if you can't handle the heat.
Mike Rugnetta: 45:11
Stay out of the posting kitchen.
Bijan Stephen: 45:13
Stay out of the posting kitchen because you're not ready to cook. If you are going to post and you've decided to make the post and you're you have your heart set on it, just think about, like, whether or not you actually want to handle the kind of criticism that you might invite, from the worst bad faith weirders online who can't tell between not liking something and thinking it's morally bad. You know, like like, what will you do when your post if your post escapes containment? Know? That's I think that's another good question to ask yourself.
Bijan Stephen: 45:42
I will also say the one thing that you should really do is just never assume the thing you're doing is normal. Because there's so many people and so many different kinds of experiences. And it's the the funniest low stakes dunks are people being, like, what, you don't wash your legs? That was, like, a week of discourse on Twitter. And it's just, like, Why did we do that?
Mike Rugnetta: 46:02
Do I absolutely need to contribute to this conversation is I think a very important question to ask oneself.
Bijan Stephen: 46:08
That's that's that is really the question. That's the the guiding thing. It's, like, what am I actually doing here?
Mike Rugnetta: 46:13
Can I just turn to someone or text a friend about this instead?
Bijan Stephen: 46:17
I think one thing to remember is that there's almost no way to win an argument online because people will never say that they were wrong. If you're actually sure about what you're doing and you realize people just don't understand it, that's one thing.
Mike Rugnetta: 46:30
But then you gotta be able to walk away.
Bijan Stephen: 46:31
You gotta be able to walk away. You also gotta be able to distinguish when you've actually been wrong. So if you're going to post, admit to yourself the possibility that you might be wrong about what you're posting. If somebody's like, hey, rethink this, I have to be able to distinguish from whether they're being assholes or not and trying to just teach me something. Because it is your responsibility if you're going to post.
Bijan Stephen: 46:51
You you can't miss an opportunity for learning, I think. Like, because posting is obviously a two way street. Like, you you are reaching out to a bunch of other people to try and connect with them. And it is, I think, the base your base responsibility to have the humility to think that you might be wrong and somebody hit and other people have things to teach you, you know.
Mike Rugnetta: 47:13
I think that's extremely meaningful and great advice.
Bijan Stephen: 47:18
I've this is the the advice that I'm always trying to take myself, but I hope somebody finds it useful.
Mike Rugnetta: 47:25
Bijan, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you taking some time out of your schedule to have a chat with us about posting disease and how to avoid it.
Bijan Stephen: 47:33
Of course, anytime. I love talking about posting, unfortunately, which is it's in itself, you know, that's a slippery slope.
Mike Rugnetta: 47:39
Where can people find you and your work online?
Bijan Stephen: 47:42
The place I'm posting the most these days is Blue Sky, but, yeah, you know, I I do I have a blog. I have a website. It's a bishanstephen.blog. That's right. Let's go.
Mike Rugnetta: 47:58
Thanks again to Bijan for joining us. One thing that we didn't do in this segment is develop a really strong distinction between posters disease and posters madness. We talked about them as though they were similar and used them kind of interchangeably, this understanding that one is maybe a more advanced version of the other. But I'm curious what you think. Do you think there's a distinction between the 2?
Mike Rugnetta: 48:20
And if so, what is it? Let us know. Call us or send us a voice memo. Tell us what you think and we may respond to your message on an upcoming episode of Never Post. You can find instructions for the multiple ways to send us a message in the show notes and on our website at neverpo.st.
Hans Buetow: 48:43
Hi. Excuse me. Can just ask, I've never seen so there's a big debate online. Caffeine free diet Doctor Pepper is a thing they make that no one can get.
Shipping Manager: 48:54
Well, that would actually be through
Hans Buetow: 48:57
That'd be through Pepsi.
Shipping Manager: 48:57
Through Pepsi. So Interesting.
Hans Buetow: 49:00
Hans Buetow: 49:00
it wouldn't be through the cup buyers, it'd be through the Pepsi people. Yep. Got it.
Shipping Manager: 49:03
We have it in our system because we've carried it before. Yeah. But if they're not able to bring it to us, then
Shipping Manager: 49:08
we obviously just don't have
Shipping Manager: 49:09
certain things that certain regions of Pepsi doesn't carry.
Hans Buetow: 49:12
Shipping Manager: 49:12
Like, we don't carry the caffeine free diet that we do up here. Yeah. In other areas of the country, they do. Oh, wow. On Hawaii.
Hans Buetow: 49:19
Yeah. That's what I wanna know.
Shipping Manager: 49:21
How Pepsi does it. Okay.
Shipping Manager: 49:23
Yeah. I'd reach out to Pepsi on that.
Hans Buetow: 49:25
Okay. Thanks a lot. Yeah. Appreciate it, fellas.
Mike Rugnetta: 50:07
This has been Never Post, a podcast about the Internet. Never Post will return in 2 weeks on Valentine's Day. That's fun. But there is already member only programming on our website, and soon, we'll also be uploading an extended cut of my conversation with Bijan. Head on over to neverpo.st or check the links in the show notes to become a member.
Mike Rugnetta: 50:28
Thanks again to Kevin, his daughter, Bijan, professor Elizabeth Wissinger, and of course, Floyd the Pepsi delivery guy. Never post's producers are Audrey Evans, Georgia Hampton, and the mysterious doctor first name, last name. Our senior producer is Hans Buteau, buto, our executive producer is Jason Oberholtzer, and I'm your host, Mike Rugnetta. And what is it you're going to say? I'm just gonna say something.
Mike Rugnetta: 50:54
And what's this you're going to do? I'm going to hide behind language. And why is that? I'm afraid. Coldenhand Blues by Alejandra Fizernik.
Mike Rugnetta: 51:10
Never Post is a production of Charts and Leisure.