๐Ÿ†• Never Post! People in Places

Mike talks with sociophonologist Lisa B. Davidson about why influencer voice exists, and with bass player and YouTuber Adam Neely about the people who have been retiring from YouTube.

Mike talks with sociophonologist Lisa B. Davidson about why influencer voice exists, and with bass player and YouTuber Adam Neely about the people who have been retiring from YouTube.

Listen on our website โ€“ where you can also become a member โ€“ and wherever you get podcasts! An ad free version of this episode is waiting for Members in their feed; check the nav menu at the top of the website if you don't know how to access that.


Extended cuts of Lisa and Adam will be uploaded to the Extended Segments Feed on February 21, 2024


Call us at 651 615 5007 to leave a voice mail

Drop us a voice memo via airtable: https://airtable.com/appIvXY8gz5ikRbF0/pagjGcjdYg2alw8cD/form

Or email us at theneverpost at gmail dot com


Intro Links

Never Post Ep 1 Hangout Stream VOD: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/2057956412

News Links:


Why Does Influencer Voice Exist?

Find Lisa:


TikToks sampled:


The Great YouTube Retirement


Birdsong ID app, Merlin: https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/ โ€“

Never Postโ€™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 showโ€™s host is Mike Rugnetta. 

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Excerpt of Famous, by Naomi Shihab Nye. 

Never Post is a production of Charts & Leisure.

Episode Transcript

TX automatically generated by Transistor

Mike Rugnetta: 00:12

Friends, hello, and welcome to Neverpost, A podcast about the internet. I'm your host, Mike Rugnetta. And this introduction was written at 8:43 pm Eastern on Monday, February 12th. New York is prepping for a really big snowstorm at the moment. And I'm not sure I'm gonna get to the studio tomorrow, so we're getting this one in early.

Mike Rugnetta: 00:31

Let's talk about what's happened since the last time you heard from us. Warner will apparently permanently shelve or simply delete the fully finished Coyote versus Acme film, starring Will Forte and John Cena as lawyers at odds in a lawsuit brought by Wile E. Coyote against the manufacturer of his constantly malfunctioning roadrunner trapping doodads. Warner walked back their decision long enough to hear and then refuse several purchase offers from Netflix, Amazon, and Paramount, whomst The Wrap says included a theatrical release in their deal, opting instead to write the movie off as a $40,000,000 loss. On February 10th, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro tweeted, I've spoken and written to the DOJ and the FTC about this disturbing, growing trend in the entertainment industry.

Mike Rugnetta: 01:25

It's anti competitive, anti worker, and predatory. Luke Plunkett, for Aftermath, writes, it is somebody's moral imperative to leak Coyote versus Acme to the world. Course around streamers expiring films from their online collections is always raging, but this is the first I've heard of a several times screened, anticipated, and apparently roundly well liked film being axed before it's even out. We may eventually rely on piracy to maintain a cultural storehouse in a post physical media environment. I was not betting on relying on corporate espionage to see some percentage of films even released.

Mike Rugnetta: 02:03

The Australian government passed a right to disconnect law, which protects employees' phone and computer free time away from work, with civil and even criminal penalties currently possible. Though the law doesn't go into effect for 6 months, and according to Computer World, the government has vowed to ax the possibility of jail time for your boss if they demand you post whilst disconnected. On February 10th, a group of people attacked a Waymo self driving car in San Francisco's Chinatown and set it ablaze. Gizmodo writes, quote, the motive behind the incident is unknown. And then, not 4 paragraphs later, quote, the incident occurred just days after a Waymo self driving car hit a bicyclist in San Francisco.

Mike Rugnetta: 02:54

And last October, a GM Autonomous Cruise Vehicle dragged a pedestrian on the road for 20 feet. A month previous, San Francisco first responders faulted crews for blocking ambulances, leading to the death of a patient. And in August of last year, local news outlet K Ron, reported incidents of Waymo's cars blocking fire trucks. But, yes. Yes.

Mike Rugnetta: 03:16

I'm sure the motive behind the incident is unknown. Myself, Hans, Jason, and Georgia did a live stream, if you missed it, on February 9th, where we talked about how the show and the first episode of the show came together, as well as our long term plans for Neverpost. If you wanna watch the VOD, there is a link to it in the show notes. We will also probably clean it up, edit it lightly, and throw it onto the members only extended segments feed before too long. So, we got a lot of listener responses for episode 1.

Mike Rugnetta: 03:53

More than we know what to do with. We thought, you know, maybe eventually we'll respond to the few listeners who will call or write in, in a segment down the line, later, when we have enough to fill 1. We have enough. We have enough to fill 1, we have enough to fill several, in fact. And so much of it is so good that we wanna give it the time and discussion that it deserves.

Mike Rugnetta: 04:20

And it feels like doing that within an episode isn't right for a number of reasons. So while we figure out how to make space to respond to all of your thoughts, we are gonna respond to just a couple right now. And by we, I mean, me and Georgia, who is here with me right now. Hi, Georgia.

Georgia Hampton: 04:37

Hi. Hello. I'm also here. Waiting to be called onto the stage.

Mike Rugnetta: 04:42

I present to you the stage. Is was there a comment on the tween fashion segment that you really wanted to talk about?

Georgia Hampton: 04:50

Yes. So there were a lot of very interesting points that people sent in about that segment. I'm I'm not surprised. There's so much more that I didn't have time to discuss, but we got an email from Toby who basically wondered if the great recession in the late 2000 contributed to this sort of disappearance between fashion that like because there was just no financial space to explore something like that. It just wasn't available anymore.

Mike Rugnetta: 05:23

Like all the brands went into austerity measures and the thing that got cut was the very narrow market of tweens.

Georgia Hampton: 05:31

The recession took out so much of that niche. Like, not just in terms of tween, but other, like, hyper hyper specific Mhmm. Mall stores.

Mike Rugnetta: 05:40

It's interesting to think of sharper image as a low interest rate phenomenon.

Georgia Hampton: 05:44

I think Toby's right. The world of tween fashion branding having something that specific, it just can't withstand that kind of belt tightening. What about you, Mike? What about posting disease?

Mike Rugnetta: 05:57

Yeah. I mean, a lot of people were like, yes, this is real and it's bad and I have it or I know a lot of people who have it. Yes. I wanna respond to it at length in the future, but we did get an email from a, I believe, psychologist who was, like, should posting disease be in the DSM? I don't know.

Mike Rugnetta: 06:15

But is this a silly question to ask? I don't think so. Mhmm. But the one that I wanna respond to specifically is a voice memo we got from Thalia through the air table who said this.

Talia: 06:27

I feel that maybe postures disease comes from a lack of knowing that the Internet is built for being wrong on. I mean, we've all every single one of us, at some point, been afflicted with the feeling that we're right about something. I mean, I myself right now, Posters madness is knowing about this and maybe trying to prove it wrong for masochistic reasons. It's just a remote tool for self immolation. Right?

Georgia Hampton: 06:56

Oh, my God.

Mike Rugnetta: 06:58

This is so evocative to me. Cause like this gets at a feeling that I have sometimes where I sit down and I'm like, well, I'm about to do internet. Foam. Just to like light myself on fire. Might as well just say goodbye.

Georgia Hampton: 07:15

Might as well.

Mike Rugnetta: 07:16

And she goes on to describe an attitude that one might have based upon a Cunningham's law, which says that the best way to get the right information on the Internet is not to ask for it, but to post the wrong information. And Talia says this.

Talia: 07:32

I feel like it's a prophylactic to know trying to be right on the Internet is foundationally at odds with the medium.

Mike Rugnetta: 07:41

Woah. It also makes me think of, like, not even necessarily being right, but just depicting or revealing things about your life that you think of as being very mundane, that then people identify as incorrect, and then having to deal with that. And I think this is something Bijan mentioned where he was like, you have to be aware that anything that you think is normal, other people are gonna think is weird. I posted a picture of like my studio once, and in the background were my guitars. And someone wrote a comment and they were like, bro, you cannot be storing your guitars like that.

Mike Rugnetta: 08:14

What are you doing? Here are some tips on guitar storage.

Georgia Hampton: 08:18

Oh my god.

Mike Rugnetta: 08:19

Why bother now is how I feel.

Georgia Hampton: 08:21

Take it easy, guys. That's something like what you just described of sharing, you know, this innocuous photo of your studio can invite people to stay at that image and look at it and examine it and zoom in on it and look at everything. Yeah. It's like

Mike Rugnetta: 08:38

It'll be like, bro, you're doing something wrong in this otherwise innocuous photo.

Georgia Hampton: 08:42

There is this surveillance, this observation that borders on obsessive in the same way that, you know, posting disease is kind of obsessive. There has to be something revealing. There has to be something that needs to be fixed that I can point to.

Mike Rugnetta: 08:59

You know what's easier?

Georgia Hampton: 09:01

Not posting.

Mike Rugnetta: 09:01

Just don't just don't post. I'm just not you just don't post.

Georgia Hampton: 09:09

While I may stop posting online, the show must continue. We have an amazing show this week. Mike's going to talk to phonologist and fun edition at Lisa B. Davidson about why influencer voice exists and why it gets made fun of so much. And then he'll talk to Sungazer bass player and music YouTuber Adam Neely about why so many people have been retiring or just generally stepping back from YouTube over the last few months.

Georgia Hampton: 09:39

But first, let's take a step outside.

Mike Rugnetta: 12:23

In 2015, I was the subject, sort of the inspiration maybe, for an Atlantic article called The Linguistics of YouTube Voice the attention grabbing tricks that keep an audience watching even when people are just talking at a camera. In it, Julie Beck wrote about how, online, I sound a lot like John and Hank Green. And a lot of other people also sound like them. So Julie asked a couple linguists. Why are people doing this?

Mike Rugnetta: 12:58

How is this happening? In the piece, she quotes linguistics professor Naomi Baron who talks about the misguided search for individuality. Barron says, In an attempt to make yourself sound special, you end up sounding like this whole genre of people. And I wish Julie had called me because I would have said, no. No.

Mike Rugnetta: 13:23

No. No. No. I'm not trying to sound special. I'm trying to sound like Hank Green.

Natalya Toryanksi: 13:31

Hello. I'm Hank Green and I wanna teach you chemistry.

Mike Rugnetta: 13:33

This happens perennially. A preoccupation arises about the way some group of people speak. When I was a kid, it was the valley girl affect. And for a little bit, it was that pop punk skater boy wilt. You know, kinda like Bill and Ted.

Mike Rugnetta: 13:52

10 years ago, it was, for a small amount of time, YouTube voice. And today, right now, it's influencer voice.

Loren Grey: 14:02

This girl came over to me and she's like, let me show you this cool trick. She pulled out a couple of strands of her hair, told me to open my mouth, flossed my teeth with her hair. K. We're sitting here on my handy dandy computer. I added egg whites, sugar, whipped those up.

Jess Molly Bell: 14:18

But until you figure out what's in your head and in your heart, you're not healthy. I think about that a lot.

Mike Rugnetta: 14:25

NPR, the BBC, Dazed, and Yahoo News have all written about the way people, though mostly women, talk in their short form videos. And here we are throwing our hat into the proverbial content ring. Curious not just about what sonic characteristics make influencers sound the way they do, but what social position that complex of sounds helps them attain. If any. Because thinking about myself watching Hank there was certainly a position I was angling for.

Mike Rugnetta: 14:59

Hey there. I'm Mike Rugnetta. And this is Crash Course Theater. So we talked to someone who could help us understand all of these things. Joining us now is Doctor.

Mike Rugnetta: 15:23

Lisa Davidson, the silver professor of linguistics at NYU and affiliate faculty in its psychology department. She is the director of the phonetics and experimental phonology lab there. Her research is focused on speech production and perception, language acquisition, voice quality and more. Lisa, you are both, and I hope I'm getting this right, a laboratory and theoretical phonologist. And I was just wondering if you could tell us briefly what that is.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 15:56

So phoneticians are in particular interested in sort of the physical properties of the sounds of speech. And so I do a lot of work where I collect people talking or looking at materials that are out there in the world of people talking, and then I measure them for various properties, for example. Whereas a laboratory phonologist is somebody who is interested both in the physical aspects of speech, but also in the structure of the sound systems of the world's languages.

Mike Rugnetta: 16:23


Dr. Lisa Davidson: 16:23

So why is it that the sounds of English are different from the sounds of Swahili or different from the sounds of, you know, German or something like that.

Mike Rugnetta: 16:31

So I think that is why I'm so excited to talk to you about this thing, which is now currently being called influencer voice. But there's one thing that I wanna acknowledge. I'm not coming at this from some outside perspective. I have purposefully changed the way that I talk, twice in my life. Once when I started professionally making YouTube videos, and I stopped doing that.

Mike Rugnetta: 17:01

And then again, when I started doing mostly think about how I was, talking in those scenarios, try to close the gap in the difference. You know, I would take notes. I watched a lot of Hank Green when I started. Why did I do that?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 17:26

Well, these different formats or these different mediums, right, they they do have a style that gets developed, and you were just trying to kind of fit into the style that other people other maybe prominent people, somebody like Hank Green, for example, are using to indicate, like, oh, I'm a member of this community. Right? Like, I participate in this speech style that that has been developed for this medium. So I think it's totally natural that that happened, and I think, oh, over time then, we kinda come to rely on it. Right?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 17:56

Like, I want my podcast to sound like that now because that's what I think of as podcaster voice.

Mike Rugnetta: 18:01

So the main thing that we're really interested in talking with you about today is this Natalia Toransky video where she does an impression of influencer voice.

Natalya Toryanksi: 18:14

I have a really busy day today. I have to reply to an email, and that's it. Oh my god. I'm so stressed. This is almond milk, espresso, and, honey.

Natalya Toryanksi: 18:33

It's really good.

Mike Rugnetta: 18:35

We saw this and there were like a couple different shocks of recognition. The first was the content, like the things that she talks about, the iced coffee, the having to send one email in a day. It's very stereotypically, like, influencer lifestyle. But the other shock of recognition was the voice, the vocal performance. It was just, very recognizable as a norm that feels like it is at home in social media.

Mike Rugnetta: 19:04

And, you know, she's pairing this really specific group of people. It's mostly, like, wealthy seeming, female lifestyle bloggers who have this really particular, vocal quality.

Avery Brynn: 19:19

What we don't talk about enough is the entire dialect that came out from the beauty YouTuber phase of, like, 2011 onward. It's like they weirdly pronounce everything just a little bit too much in these small little snippets. And it sounds like this. So this is my Snooze sleeping mask, and I absolutely love it.

Mike Rugnetta: 19:39

So that is Avery Brin. She's a lifestyle influencer on TikTok. Is she right? Is this style of speaking a dialect?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 19:50

I would not call that a dialect. I mean, to me, a dialect is a better word for how somebody normally speaks in their normal conversations. Right? Like, how they normally go about the world. I would be very surprised if Avery Abrams or any of these people on TikTok actually sound like that when they're just talking to friends or family or whatever.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 20:11

Right? It's really a style that they've implemented in these TikTok videos. And so I think I would prefer to use the the phrase speech style to refer to that specifically when they're recording these videos.

Mike Rugnetta: 20:24

Something like news casting is a speaking style.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 20:26

Yeah. Or even teacher talk. Right? I mean, even in my classroom, I think I probably sound different when I'm teaching to students than when I'm, you know, just talking to my colleagues in the hallway, for example. Sure.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 20:37

Might even be similar content, but because I'm trying to get across, you know, pedagogical content when I'm speaking to the students and not necessarily to colleagues, the style comes out differently, I think.

Mike Rugnetta: 20:48

And so what, from your perspective, are the components of this speech style?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 20:56

They cut out anything that is not fluent speech. Right? So any kind of disfluency just isn't gonna be there. And so the cuts often contribute to the way that you're hearing the sort of prosody or the cadence of the speakers, the rhythm of their speech.

Mike Rugnetta: 21:10

And what else do you hear in this style of speech?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 21:14

There's a video by Avery Brynn where she's talking about the Olive Garden. And in this video, there's examples of both uptalk and creaky voice.

Avery Brynn: 21:23

But you can just ask them to add the breadstick seasoning onto your chicken fettuccine Alfredo at Olive Garden.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 21:30

Creaky voice is when your vocal folds vibrate irregularly and more slowly. And so the the main property of it is that it lowers in pitch. And so it sounds like there's a difference between the rest of the sentence and getting lower like this.

Avery Brynn: 21:47

Olive garden.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 21:48

Uptalk is when you come to the end of a sentence and instead of either remaining flat or lowering your pitch, you end up kind of rising pitch. Right?

Avery Brynn: 21:57

Onto your chicken fettuccine Alfredo.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 22:00

One of the ways in which she uses uptalk in this in this video is to kinda indicate that she's not done with her thought. And then when she gets to the final aspect of the thought, then she really goes into creaky voice, and then the same thing happens kind of in a cycle. So so for example, when she's talking about the breadsticks seasoning, she uses uptalk there.

Avery Brynn: 22:18

Breadstick seasoning.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 22:19

And then she continues to the next phrase, and she she uses the word Alfredo, and that also ends in uptalk. She's still not done with her thought.

Avery Brynn: 22:26


Dr. Lisa Davidson: 22:27

But then right after that, she gets to Olive Garden and she's done with that thought and and that is produced with a lot of creaky voice or or vocal fry.

Avery Brynn: 22:36

Olive Garden.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 22:36

I mean, it's actually kind of a a helpful, prosodic way of telling her story. These are properties that are useful to the listener too.

Avery Brynn: 22:45

But you can just ask them to add the breadstick seasoning onto your chicken fettuccine Alfredo at Olive Garden.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 22:52

There's a fair amount of those properties in these videos, which is probably not surprising because they just are features of speech these days anyway. And it may be that they're features of speech of of younger people and these are often speech, which, you know, I would I I I would argue vehemently against because all kinds of people do it. Right? People of whatever, genders or sexualities do it too.

Mike Rugnetta: 23:25

I wanna zoom out a little bit and talk about a statistic that I read, which is that 90% of linguistic innovation comes from women, and sort of put that up against this seeming fact that this speech style is performed, is done, is adopted by largely women online and ask what I think is maybe between those two ideas, which is, do you think that this in any way signals or it will get could influence a larger scale change in speech style in English?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 24:03

I would be surprised if the speech style that's used in TikTok videos becomes sort of a more prevalent speech style in normal conversation among NEH people, really. To the extent that there's lexical change, that's what we call that when a new word is added. Right? So to the extent that there's lexical change, yeah, I think the Internet has historically been a really big driver of that. What I'm less certain about is whether sound change is quite as influenced by the Internet.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 24:32

My guess is that it's not. And that is because for sound change to happen, you really have to kind of be interacting with people. It's not really enough just to hear people, I think. And we're not interacting with these influencers. Right?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 24:45

We're just hearing them. Bill above, who is the kind of grandfather of variation of sociolinguistics, he did a lot of work looking at sound change in Philadelphia. And he identified these 5 properties of what of the kinds of people who are the ones who are the innovators of sound change. He observed that they're women, that they are kind of central figures in the socioeconomics group that they're in, that they have a lot of contacts within their communities, but that they also spread out beyond their communities. So there there are people who just kind of have a lot of contact with a lot of different kinds of people, and also with people who have different social statuses than they do.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 25:27

So there are these kinds of individuals, He actually has a word for it called saccadic leaders. And so there there is a sense in which there are individuals who can be the ones who start language change within their communities, and then it starts to broaden out from there.

Mike Rugnetta: 25:40

And I mean but what you just described does sound remarkably like a TikTok influencer, I guess, without the facet of being face to face with your community. Is that, like, maybe the one difference?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 25:55

Right. So the question is, is the influencer themselves in their normal life Right. Doing these things and then spreading it to their communities? Are they the innovator of sound change themselves within their their actual social circle? That's one question.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 26:10

I don't know the answer to that. Then the other question is, could there be somebody who listens to these, decides to adopt it, and then that kind of, you know, that next level connection, like the, you know, 6 degrees of separation? Like, is that person then the one who's bringing it to a community? And I don't think that as far as I know, there's no evidence of the latter thing happening. But I would still bet that these are not really properties of connected speech, like connected spontaneous speech, and that it's unlikely that they're going to become properties of of connected spontaneous speech.

Mike Rugnetta: 26:43

And why is it that interaction is such a powerful driver of sound change in speech?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 26:48

Yeah. I mean, even with children, that's true. Right? Like, despite reports that came out, like, some number of years ago, like, American children are watching Peppa Pig, and now they all sound British. Right?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 26:58

Like, that's not true. They might like one word and they might say it, but they're not, like, wholesale adopting a British accent because they're not interacting with Peppa Pig. So, I mean, that's sort of built into the human language acquisition and use property. I think that we have to be interacting with people in order to really use the properties that that we hear around us. And there is a lot of evidence.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 27:22

There is a a ton of research on what we either call convergence or accommodation. There's a lot of words for it. But basically, the idea that we do start to sound like the people that we're interlocuting with. So even from fine grained, like, low level sound sound details, if you're talking to somebody, over time, you will start to converge. The 2 of you will start to converge on certain properties within the course of that conversation.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 27:46

So we do you know, we are sensitive to the actual humans that we are talking to in that sense.

Mike Rugnetta: 27:51

Yeah. It's interesting. It's just such great context for watching one of these videos, going to the comments, seeing someone say, I can't believe people are talking like this. This is just the end of the English language. We're doomed.

Mike Rugnetta: 28:03

And then hearing you say sort of very confidently, like, it's fine. Really, it's everybody's fine.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 28:10

Yeah. It's fine. Yeah. If linguists can get one message out to the world, it is that you can't stop language change. Nothing you say is gonna make that happen, so you might as well not bother.

Mike Rugnetta: 28:22

And and any change that's gonna happen, it's fine anyways. It's just it's fine.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 28:26

It's fine. Yep. The next generation really doesn't care. They're gonna be totally happy with it.

Mike Rugnetta: 28:39

Doctor. Davidson, thank you so much for joining us. This was fascinating.

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 28:46

Thank you.

Mike Rugnetta: 28:47

If people want to, see your research or look at the lab, what is the best place for them to do that online?

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 28:54

You can find me on the Internet. If you Google my name and New York University, you will find my website there. And you can find me on blue sky at lisabdavidson.

Georgia Hampton: 29:09

One thing I've been mulling over since we had this conversation is the fact that influencer voice has probably reached the level of notoriety it has because the people who adopt it are, you know, influential. And what I'm wondering is where else this kind of vibe specific lexicon can crop up other Internet communities out there with particular ways of speaking, especially in videos, in ways they wouldn't talk in person, that just haven't caught the ear of, you know, every major news outlet. Call us, send us a voice memo, tell us what you think, and we may respond to your message on an upcoming episode of Neverpost. You can find instructions for the multiple ways to contact us in the show notes.

Mike Rugnetta: 30:24


Natalya Toryanksi: 30:32

think we got a finch. It's far away. I hear something else. I think it's like a it's like a morning dog. Yeah.

Natalya Toryanksi: 31:21

Over there. This is Robin. Alright. They got the real skittery ones. I think I hear the dove, though.

Natalya Toryanksi: 31:40

Yeah. Across the valley. Hey. I picked it up. Morning, Dove.

Natalya Toryanksi: 32:03

Thanks. There it is. Good ear. I just thought it was an owl. I know.

Natalya Toryanksi: 32:13

It's just a side note.

Mike Rugnetta: 33:58

When we started making this episode, I did not plan for us to have 2 segments where I reminisce about making YouTube videos. That was not the plan for this episode, and in no way is it the plan for the show at all. That is not the theme, that we think unites these two conversations. But we do think that there is a theme that unites them. As soon as I finished the interview that you're about to hear with professional musician and YouTuber Adam Neely, where I talk with him about the number of high profile creators who have stepped back from YouTube in the last few months, I started thinking about what we learned from doctor Davidson.

Mike Rugnetta: 34:41

We interviewed Adam literally the day after we interviewed Lisa. And the two conversations felt so similar. Because each of them talked about the influential and often literally life changing high bandwidth communication that maybe can only happen when people are together and in person. That social platforms can't replicate this sort of togetherness, doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad, or they're failing at some fundamental premise. But platforms can also be totalizing.

Mike Rugnetta: 35:30

They can send this message, and often do, that they are all you need. For work. For fun. For social engagement. For everything.

Mike Rugnetta: 35:42

And so it can be really easy, especially as someone who's very online, double especially as someone whose work is all online. To forget that the Internet is not and cannot be all there is. Joining us now is Adam Neely. Adam is a composer, musician, and creator of YouTube videos with 1,800,000 subscribers. He's an internationally touring bassist including with his jazz fusion group, Sungazer.

Mike Rugnetta: 36:28

Adam, thank you for joining us.

Adam Neely: 36:30

Man, it is such a pleasure to join you. You were one of the people who inspired me to make YouTube videos, and this for me is just so exciting. So thank you

Mike Rugnetta: 36:40

for joining. In the context of how things are going at the moment, I don't know whether to be flattered or if, like, a glove is about to come out and I'm gonna get slapped across the face.

Adam Neely: 36:48

How dare you lead me down this road?

Mike Rugnetta: 36:52

Yeah. Speaking of, you made a video recently, called 1,800,000 subscribers and no one cares.

Adam Neely: 37:00

1,800,000 subscribers and no one cares.

Mike Rugnetta: 37:03

And and you said something in that video that I cannot stop thinking about. It has been lodged in my brain since I saw it. And I have like, it's it's almost stuck in my head like a song, and I've gone back and rewatched the video a number of times to try to like exercise it, in the way that you do when you have, music stuck in your head. And it is that, you said, I only have peers on YouTube. No elders.

Mike Rugnetta: 37:35

I was wondering if you could just to start us off, like, tell me what that means.

Adam Neely: 37:41

Yeah. I've been thinking that thought for a long time, and I needed to say it on a YouTube video. I'm a musician. I'm a jazz musician. And there is a canon of elders that we study and respect, and we look to them for our craft, our language of music.

Adam Neely: 38:01

And I look to people, you know, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. I don't have that on YouTube, this new art form, this new, way of interacting with the world and communicating. It's just the people who started at the beginning and whether or not they're still here. I think for the next generation, they're gonna start creating a canon of YouTubers the same way that I have a canon of jazz musicians. But, you know, there is a pandemic of YouTube quitting.

Adam Neely: 38:32

And I use the word pandemic because I think the pandemic really was the impetus for this current wave of people stepping back from YouTube. There's many great YouTubers, Tom Scott, being, I think, my favorite and the one that I think I got most emotionally, invested in, his retirement.

Tom Scott: 38:52

Now it's time to take a breather. I can't keep this up. This is my dream job, and I have a lot of fun doing it. I know I'm incredibly lucky, but a dream job is still a job. And it's a job that keeps getting bigger and more complicated, and I am so tired.

Tom Scott: 39:04

There's nothing in my life right now except work. I did get close to burning out, but, fortunately, I always knew when to step back from the brink. And it's not like I can drop the quality back down. That's not how YouTube works these days.

Adam Neely: 39:16

I mean, I felt like the need to contextualize why so many people were quitting. Why are so many people leaving this platform? And I still don't really know. I just feel tired. And I think knowing that I only have elders in music and not on YouTube put some perspective on that.

Mike Rugnetta: 39:37

Can you connect a little bit more the idea that you're exhausted? It's an and it's an exhaustion that I know very very well.

Adam Neely: 39:46


Mike Rugnetta: 39:47

And the fact that there are no creative elders for you to go to. Like, how are those 2 are those 2 things related?

Adam Neely: 39:55

I think the elders give me more of a trajectory for sustainability

Tom Scott: 40:00


Adam Neely: 40:00

That I know where I'm I can go. I have no idea where I can go on YouTube and online because nobody has nobody has done it. For it. There no. Yeah.

Adam Neely: 40:09

I'm always ever comparing it to the kind of interaction that I have in a very different space offline. That's that's really what I'm doing all the time here, online versus offline. And And online is great, and it gave me my career. And it has allowed me to communicate with so many more people than I would ever get to communicate with and interact with and inspire offline. However, I also think community is a means of exchanging information in context and constructing an art through community.

Adam Neely: 40:47

And it's very difficult to get information in context on the Internet. It's just information, information, information. And you do have communities on the Internet, Discord servers or what have you, where you get people together and share information in a context to build an art or build an identity. But it's much harder, in my opinion, than getting in a room with people and talking, going to a a bar, going to a show and talking, information sharing in context. And the information that I get from an elder in my musical community is the most valuable thing I have ever ever experienced.

Adam Neely: 41:27

Somebody who is older than me, who respects me enough to share information with me about music, that is, like, life changing. And that only happens offline for me. That only happens offline.

Mike Rugnetta: 41:41

It's so I don't know if ironic is the right word, but how funny that the hyper connected social network of YouTube with all of the promise of the Internet and connection between people, free sharing of information, like, it is the thing, you know, as you're describing, where it's actually harder to connect and to share things, to share knowledge, to develop a sort of institutional understanding. Do you have a sense of why that is?

Adam Neely: 42:18

It's harder to sell. It's easier to sell information without context. It's so easy to sell information. And when I say sell, I mean, you know, produce content and then put ads on it and then give the information up for free. There's so much information on my YouTube channel.

Adam Neely: 42:34

And for some people, that information might be very useful for them and that might be deeply important to them. It's just so much easier to to sell information than sell community.

Mike Rugnetta: 42:45

This makes me think, of something. I wonder if you could talk about this idea that I think we share, which is, when you create something for people, there is just a fundamentally different feeling when the thing at the end of that process is a post, which is strange. You know, like, we talk about, you know, when you play music, you have your community of, music makers and music enjoyers and your audience. And when you make a post, when you make a YouTube video, you we talk a lot online, in the content ecosystem, in the, you know, the world of the creator economy, about the community of people that you gather around those things. But when it's a post, it just it feels different.

Mike Rugnetta: 43:39

Yeah. Why?

Adam Neely: 43:43

Because your only feedback is a metric. Your only feedback is a number. If you played your silly acoustic guitar song to 10 people in a room, you have 10 people who are interacting with you. You have 10 people who are, like, invested in this moment. The entire way through, they're invested in this moment.

Adam Neely: 44:03

It's incredible. It's beautiful. And you can be part of that. There's this wonderful term called musicking, that Christopher Small has, which kinda changed my perspective on live performance. And that when you perform live, it's not just an audience and a performer, like, in their separate worlds.

Adam Neely: 44:24

They are part of the same thing. Music is this activity that everybody has a role to play in, And the audience is just as important as the performer because they are there to experience this sound with the performer, and they feed the performer's energy and everything goes up. And it's this ecstatic experience. Hopefully, it's this ecstatic experience. And you can't do that on the Internet.

Adam Neely: 44:47

There is no feedback loop. There's nothing. It's just a post and numbers. You you get the number. You get the sweet number.

Adam Neely: 44:54

You get the one out of 10 or the 10 out of 10 on on YouTube or the 5 out of 10 or the 2 out of 10. And then you see how many viewers have viewed your video, and that's so, like, alienating. It's so, difficult to understand your relationship to the art and audience with a number.

Mike Rugnetta: 45:12

It's isolating.

Adam Neely: 45:13

It's isolating. Yeah. It's it's not I mean, you can intellectualize it. Sure. But we didn't get into this because we wanted to think about it.

Adam Neely: 45:21

We wanted to feel things. We wanted to experience the heights of human emotion, and all of a sudden, we get a number that says your emotion is this.

Mike Rugnetta: 45:30

Oh, this one's not doing as well as the last one. And this is gonna tell you objectively

Adam Neely: 45:35

why. It's data based.

Tom Scott: 45:37

Have you

Mike Rugnetta: 45:37

tried making better things? Try that next time.

Adam Neely: 45:40

Oh, okay. Okay. I'll do better.

Mike Rugnetta: 45:43

There was a moment at which I very obviously stopped getting invited to YouTube events. And it was when I got in an argument with an engineer at YouTube at a party where I was like, you need to make it so that there's a button I can click that hides all the metrics from me and my audience. And if you don't do this, you are going to have a large scale mental health crisis amongst creators within the next 5 years. And that was 7 years ago. And and they were like, well, but that's the point of the platform.

Mike Rugnetta: 46:18

People wanna know. They want feedback so that they can get better at what they're doing so that, you know, that's the whole point is the numbers. And I said, no. It's not. And the fact that you don't know that is scary and disappointing.

Mike Rugnetta: 46:29

And then they stopped inviting me to things.

Adam Neely: 46:32

I know a YouTuber 12 tone who's another fantastic music theory YouTuber that they wrote a script or something that hides all of the analytics for themselves. And they said, like, this is the best decision I ever made. I can now make YouTube videos whenever I want. And Yeah. Nothing matters, and it's great.

Adam Neely: 46:51

And I was like, oh my gosh. Imagine. I need that. I don't know. But there's a part of me that still wants to win at it.

Adam Neely: 46:58

Meaning, I still want to get better at like, it's it's so insidious because it's like I'm so used to playing the numbers game. They tricked me into wanting to get higher and higher numbers.

Mike Rugnetta: 47:10

I mean, you also it's it's, I still sometimes get emails from people who are like, I really liked Idea Channel, really liked Crash Course. I wanna start my own YouTube channel. How do I get successful? What should I do from the beginning in order to set myself up for success on YouTube? Do you get those?

Mike Rugnetta: 47:35

And if so, what do you say to those people?

Adam Neely: 47:39

Yeah. I do. And there's a certain sadness that I feel whenever somebody asks me about that. If somebody asks me, hey, I'm a bass player, Like, do you have any professional advice for me going into music? That I get excited about.

Adam Neely: 47:57

If somebody's passion is YouTube, that to me genuinely makes me sad because I know how much work went into this and how much luck. I got so unbelievably lucky. And also, I entered a niche music theory that nobody was doing anything in at the time. And now it's super saturated with the most amazing people from the most amazing universities and the most amazing bands, all making YouTube videos. And you first kind of have to get your PhD in music theory or be in a successful touring rock band or all of this stuff and then make YouTube videos.

Adam Neely: 48:36

If making YouTube videos is your goal, what do you have to say? What is it that you're going to actually say on the platform? Remember, you have to make something. You have to communicate something. I have a history of playing jazz music, of composing jazz music, of being a working musician in New York City.

Adam Neely: 48:57

You know, there's all these things outside of that fed this desire to make YouTube videos. And if somebody's passion is making YouTube videos and getting successful on YouTube, I just feel sad.

Mike Rugnetta: 49:07

The desire to make a YouTube channel is often a desire for a desire.

Natalya Toryanksi: 49:12


Mike Rugnetta: 49:12

Right? You want That's

Adam Neely: 49:13

that's a good yeah.

Mike Rugnetta: 49:14

It's wanting to want something and seeing YouTube as a pathway towards getting rewards for what you will eventually figure out you want.

Adam Neely: 49:23

That is a very good way of seeing it. Like, it's it's a step removed from the actual passion and the actual making of a thing, And people will hyper fixate on that, on the delivery mechanism. And, you know, you could say, oh, like filmmakers, you know, YouTube is a form of filmmaking. You could say it's a form of journalism. There's all these, like, things where you could say, okay.

Adam Neely: 49:46

Genuinely, there is some substance as social media content. The success

Mike Rugnetta: 49:59

the place where I get success.

Adam Neely: 50:01

Yeah. Exactly. I

Mike Rugnetta: 50:03

wanna take us back to the beginning of this conversation where we were talking about the canon of elders that musicians have and how YouTubers don't really have that. Like, you you don't have, this, like, group of people who were around for a long time for you to learn from. And you said something, which was that the next generation are going to create that canon of YouTubers. And that optimism is so different from how so many people are writing about the Internet right now. Like, there has been just this rash of pieces from, the New York Times opinion, of course, Wired, of course, The Atlantic, of course, Being, like, I, as a late thirties, early forties man who has been using the Internet for a long time, I'm very sad about how things are going.

Mike Rugnetta: 50:58

The Internet's bad now. It's not a place of discovery or community building. It's all just, like, ads in Facebook. And I wonder what it is that gives you hope, that the next generation, is building this these sorts of community structures, that other people just aren't seeing, that that they see as totally lacking.

Adam Neely: 51:21

Yeah. I mean, here's the thing is the Internet is always for the children, not for the older millennials like myself. Culture is always for the children, not for the older folk. And And so, of course, you're gonna be shut out of the discussion, because you're not a teenager or a 20 something anymore. Like, that's always the case.

Adam Neely: 51:40

This is it's human nature to have that. I think the kids are always gonna be alright. This is a such a small time period, and we have this like, the the Internet is very small. We have this very small way of looking at this as being a unique moment in history. No.

Adam Neely: 51:54

It's not. This is just human culture that's connected and amplified, but it's just how culture and things work. And, yeah, kids are gonna be alright. It's just different from what we we did, and we don't full we don't fully understand it, but maybe they do. I don't know.

Adam Neely: 52:11

It'll be cool.

Mike Rugnetta: 52:12

Trust the process.

Adam Neely: 52:13

Trust the process.

Mike Rugnetta: 52:14

Adam, this has been a great pleasure. Thank you so so much for taking time out of your schedule to chat with us.

Adam Neely: 52:21

Well, thank you so much for having me. Again, this is a huge pleasure, huge honor for me

Mike Rugnetta: 52:26

Oh, please. Oh, come on.

Adam Neely: 52:27

To be on here. Let me say nice things about it. No. I can't.

Mike Rugnetta: 52:30

I'm from Massachusetts. We don't know how.

Adam Neely: 52:33

I had to learn that. But yeah. Seriously, thank you so much for for having me.

Mike Rugnetta: 52:39

Where can people come and see you and Sungazer live in a room, music as a verb, next?

Adam Neely: 52:50

We're opening for the metal guitarist Pliny in Australia in, I believe it's March 8th in Brisbane. We're doing a little Australia tour. So if you are down under, you can come hang. Otherwise, stay tuned on our social media. We'll be announcing more tour dates for later this year.

Mike Rugnetta: 53:12

We'll put all those links in the show notes.

Georgia Hampton: 53:27

Thanks so much again to Adam for chatting with us. It was great leaving this conversation feeling hopeful to some degree about the future of the Internet, but I also wonder if we're realizing that the kinds of social interaction we need to sustain meaningful creative practices are just difficult to find entirely online. To me, that feels antithetical to the fantasy of the Internet as this incredible place for community building and genuine human connection and so on. But I don't know. Maybe there's just limits to that idea.

Natalya Toryanksi: 54:03

If you have thoughts

Georgia Hampton: 54:04

on this or anything else in this episode, drop us a line. You can find instructions for the various ways to contact us in the show notes.

Natalya Toryanksi: 54:42

I listen to birds now. When I walk around my neighborhood, I turn on my phone, and this app listens to my surroundings. And uses AI to identify the birds singing near me, Like blue jays. Cardinals, sparrows, robins, chickadees, crows. It's nothing special.

Natalya Toryanksi: 55:22

The birds aren't special. But they live here with me. They share this part of the world with me. And when I turn this on, it's like having a friend gently ask me to pay attention to what's around me. I hear things differently when I have it on.

Natalya Toryanksi: 55:55

I hear space. I hear depth. What's that? Train horn? Traffic?

Natalya Toryanksi: 56:11

Car. There's dogs. There's wind. The whole thing gets me out of my head, asks me to breathe air, look, listen, build the world around me together. Get out of my head and into the sound world that's always here.

Georgia Hampton: 57:28

This has been Never Post, a podcast about the Internet, and that's our show for this week. We'll be back in 2 weeks on February 28th. But in the meantime, extended cuts of both of Mike's conversations in this episode with Lisa and Adam will be made available for every post members at neverpo.st. So if you aren't already a member, make sure to sign up soon. The extended cuts of these conversations are truly, truly excellent.

Georgia Hampton: 57:56

So what are you doing? Get in here. It's It's really worth a listen. Thanks again to doctor Lisa Davidson, Adam Neely, and Merlin, the bird ID app from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Never Post producers are Audrey Evans, the mysterious doctor first name, last name, and me, Georgia Hampton.

Georgia Hampton: 58:17

Our senior producer is Hans Beutaud. Our executive producer is Jason Oberholtzer, and our host is Mike Rugnetta. I wanna be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets. Sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I wanna be famous in the way a pulley is famous or buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what

Dr. Lisa Davidson: 58:48

it could

Georgia Hampton: 58:48

do. That's a section from Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye. Never Post is a production of Charts and Leisure.

Emails? You Love 'Em!