Hello and welcome to gen yeet. Last Sunday, I was tied up writing piece on teen pop sensation JoJo Siwa. At her Friday concert, I was surrounded by an endless tide of brightly colored hair bows in what felt like 105-degree heat. It was a hellishly fun reporting trip, and you can read the piece here.
In the past few weeks, I’ve purposefully distanced myself from writing about the Internet. After VidCon, my social media feeds were inundated with think-pieces about influencer culture and what it means for society — blah blah blah — and I figured I needed a break. The funniest thing I learned that weekend was that the hottest/most exclusive party of TikTok teenage influencers took place at Bowlmor Lanes in Anaheim. Reader, I consistently bowled at that shitty place all throughout middle school.
Onto more depressing news: There was the grisly death of Bianca Devin, which was posted on Instagram by her killer for hours before it was reported and taken off. Mashable’s Morgan Sung has a great piece on how Instagram users — including teens — took it upon themselves to spam Devin’s tagged photos and hashtag with innocuous graphics of clouds and cats to block out the images of her mangled body.
In conclusion: The Internet is a bad place in 2019. So this week I’m talking about somewhat a lighter topic in the Gen Z world: anonymous Q&A platforms.
Q&ANON (not v punny but I tried!!)
It seems that every few months, the teens discover a hot new social networking app with a fresh function not yet co-opted by a major platform. Currently, that app is YOLO — an iOS app designed to be an add-on feature to Snapchat. It allows users to post something like an anonymous comment box on their Snap story, prompting followers and friends to send in short questions and comments.
The function is similar to Instagram Stories’ question box, in which users can pose a question and crowdsource comments from followers. With YOLO, this is all anonymous. While this creates a new form of engagement on Snapchat, it offers nothing new.
Anonymous messaging has always been appealing to teenagers — desperately needy creatures who crave validation from their social network of friends and strangers. I say this because I’m fresh (ish) out of my teenage years, and I cringe at the too-recent memories of how utterly stupid I acted. If anything, blame my undeveloped frontal cortex. (As I will constantly remind you — blame Leo season — it was my birthday on Thursday. I turned 21, and yes, I did the school thing freakishly fast and early.)
When I was in high school, ask.fm was the anonymous platform to flaunt the disturbingly confidential questions you received from strangers. It’s a measure of popularity and online interest, basically a form of social currency for vapid teenagers. The more weirdly probing questions a person received, the more popular they appeared to be — because only the popular kids had anonymous admirers (whether they be friends or strangers) who cared enough to send in questions about their life.
Before we continue…
I dug through my ask.fm for “research” and I leave you with these gems from ~5-8 years ago. I realize that I still am a chronic oversharer. Brb, working on that.
I spent a chunk of my high school years on Tumblr, where I created GIFs and graphics for specific fandoms. Because I fielded so many graphics requests, I had an open inbox (that could be anonymous, if the requester wanted it to be). For the most part, those queries were relatively innocuous — mainly about my favorite characters and ships, the fics I read, etc. — and was not nearly as personal as my ask.fm.
High school was a dramatic time, and after I left small-town Garden Grove for Pac-12-football-school USC, I stopped craving that type of “did you see on ask.fm” drama. In my senior year of college, I came back full circle into fandom. Except instead of ask.fm or anonymous Tumblr messages, the (fandom) world moved onto Curious Cat. And now the teens moved onto YOLO.
What I find funny with these anonymous apps is that kids always feign surprise, ignorance or even abhorrence when they receive overtly offensive or personal questions. (Note: Cyberbullying is never okay.) As I scrolled through my ask.fm (I had ~1,000 questions) and encountered questions about my SAT scores that I snarkily failed to answer, I put myself back in my teenage shoes. My motive — these teens’ motives — for fielding anonymous questions was driven by the desire to feel important. I wanted the questions. I wanted to be openly friendly yet, in some sense, vaguely unapproachable in the hallways at school, so that my peers would seek out my ask.fm. I was obsessed with curating an image of myself to present to the world, online and IRL.
And maybe I still am.
This section is called ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
INSTEAD OF MEMES, I OVERSHARE
I wanted to preface this section by saying that I beat the rest of the ~media curve~ on explaining hot girl summer to ya. You’re welcome!
Just a few things that made me laugh this week:
This is a recurring meme I feel very attacked by:
Finally, I recently started watching Broad City and I am obsessed. It’s the perfect length for my buzzy, distracted brain and offers enough crude humor to crack me up at my dinner table. I took a few quizzes and have decided that I’m the Abbi of my friendships.
SOME GOODREADS, ACCORDING TO ME:
“Fleishman Is In Trouble” by (my queen) Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera wrote about how a senior prank at a Maryland high school spiraled into a racist act that’s now condemned as a hate crime.
Buzzfeed’s Joseph Bernstein on Andy Ngo and how he became conservative media’s newest media star
A profile on Jia Tolentino, my 30-year-old mom and fellow blonde Asian.
How a notorious Los Angeles dine-and-dash dater got caught. (Daily Beast)
The Cut’s Jessica Pressler is back with a deep-dive into some Big Little Lies-esque drama at a Brooklyn preschool.
I’m going to be in Atlanta next weekend for the Asian American Journalists Association conference, so you won’t be hearing from me. I’m also dealing with an apartment/life move the week of Aug. 10 (wee!), so if all goes well, you’ll probably hear from me sometime in mid-August.
A lot of exciting life stuff is happening, and thanks so much for 400 subscribers. The soundtrack to this newsletter is Cherry Coloured Funk by Cocteau Twins and Lonesome Love by Mitski.