It's time for BNet to come to an end. It's been a pleasure to put these things out twice a week for the past 13 months, but it was never designed to last forever.
After years of editorial work typified by many shapeless beginnings and endings that all melted into each other, I would like to end BNet on my own terms in a clear-eyed way, before it gets too boring, or repetitive, or antiquated, and it becomes yet another thing in your inbox that you neither read nor have the will to unsubscribe from. The last thing I want is for BNet to become a thing that evokes... absolutely nothing.
Sometimes it helps to write things out, so I can say I said it and then move on. By which I mean: the rest of this is overlong and wildly self-indulgent, and I cannot in good conscious encourage you to read it.
The main reason I'm doing this is because I no longer require the things this newsletter provides for me. I don't need to grow my personal brand, or demonstrate abilities as a writer or editor, nor do I need the subscriber revenue anymore. (Subscribers, check your inbox!)
I've always felt weird about accepting money for this. There is a reason that the only tangible benefit for paying subscribers has been pictures of my dog (who is extremely beautiful) and not, you know, actual journalism or commentary — work, in other words. I am deeply skeptical of individuals who want to “grow their audience,” and I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of “having an audience” at all. I don’t want to be the guy on stage. I much prefer, you know, friends or peers who have similar interests. BNet is a goodwill gesture, not a business venture. I've been using the internet long enough that I can say this with confidence: the notion that quote-unquote "average" users deserve to be compensated with attention and money merely for posting stuff online has completely ruined the internet.
It has muddied everything. The people posting stuff now do so for disingenuous reasons or to serve ulterior motives, the people looking at the posts have been led to believe that if they so much as look at the wrong ones, they are supporting the wrong people. The nature of the seven-ish platforms that everyone has been crammed onto now is such that people speak past each other to amorphous audiences, and that leads to bland culture, simplistic thinking, predictable behavior, and a race to the bottom. This newsletter has rarely focused on content creators and influencers because I cannot think of any that produce consistently interesting work. Believe me, I've tried. I've looked! These ecosystems are only interesting in aggregate, and even then, not often enough for me to personally care.
Okay, I'll (try to) get off my high horse now. My point is that a lot of examining internet culture now is mostly looking at a handful of large platforms and writing up a predictable series of events that happens over and over and over. Finding the unique stuff takes more work than you might think, because everything is personalized algorithms and patterns and nothing is indexed by Google anymore. That work of just keeping an eye on the ‘net — and it is work — necessitates a full-time commitment that, unfortunately, I cannot fulfill.
The major platforms now give users more of what they want instead of allowing for the slight possibility of showing them something new. Examining memes is pattern recognition, and when your job is writing up patterns, you eventually run out of things to say. “Here’s another meme based off a children’s entertainment property that was popular among people now in their early 20s, I guess.”
The first time I got paid to write about what I will affectionately call "dumb shit on the web" was 11 years ago. Eleven! That's so many years. That's too many years. It’s become increasingly rare that I see something that genuinely surprises me online. When I started covering this stuff six years ago at nymag, I didn't have a mainstream example to crib from, just vague recollections of Urlesque. If that rings a bell, you know I’ve been doing this a long time.
Which sort of leads me to the other reason that BNet cannot continue. BNet does not feel like I am doing something new; it feels like I am continuing to do an old job that I do not have fond memories of. Here's a fun fact: each newsletter I send out gets about as much traffic as one of the typical posts I wrote at nymag. You could argue that this proves there's a ceiling on how much traffic this sort of internet-culture coverage gets. Or (as my biased ass prefers to look at it) you could argue it demonstrates that nymag's editorial leaders offered the work I did for them roughly as much institutional support, guidance, input, distribution, and promotion as they've given BNet: none whatsoever.
I sit down to tap out one of these newsletters and I am inevitably reminded of bad experiences. The various feckless editors who refused to do their jobs, who saddled me with all of their responsibilities, who regularly chose to have the easy conversation instead of the honest one. I think of how, over four and a half years of daily writing, I can count on maybe three hands the number of pieces that weren't entirely conceived, reported, researched, written, and produced by me. I think of the time that my editor liked a year-end feature pitch of mine so much that he secretly wrote it himself and then said he “forgot” that I pitched it to him (in front of other writers!) — a weird incident that has led to years of wondering what other unique ideas and hard work of mine someone else received credit for in meetings I was never invited to.
I had hoped that with time and distance this feeling might wear off, but it hasn't. For other writers, the freedom of going independent with an email newsletter can be stimulating, but writing BNet often just reminds me that my output has been a solo effort for a lot longer than one might assume. I think that writing BNet has kept me more angry and bitter and petty than I want to be, and I don't like feeling that way. And so, BNet must die.
I don't mean to turn this into a pity party. Your support has been wonderful. Really. I'm always surprised that as many people read each one of these silly little posts as they do. (Even the real stinkers. "joker check-in"? What the hell was I thinking?) (I was thinking I need to get something, anything, up.)
I've especially enjoyed editing last month's guest posts, and learning about stuff that my personal surfing habits would never bring me to. Few will admit it, but there’s no “objective” version of internet-culture reporting — it’s everyone looking through their own tiny digital peephole, incapable of seeing the full picture. That’s a fact that I’d like to see embraced more often, rather than posturing as the search for some objective truth about right-wing shitposters and TikTok teens. BNet has been an attempt to capture the weird parts of the internet that I see, not an articulation of what the internet is like for everyone.
I’m not as drawn to the money floating around social media now, or the hottest app, or disinformation, or what the loudest voices in the room are up to — and that seems to put me at odds with most editors, since they don’t really seem to pay attention to this stuff and just crib from their competitors, trending topic modules, and/or Media Twitter. A lot of internet culture stories I read feel like, I dunno, a showbiz paper that covers how much money the Marvel movies make but never answers the question “Is it any good?” or like Car and Driver covering a police chase simply because it took place in automobiles. There’s a stark difference between
the internet and
of the internet, you know?
I much prefer the smaller, weirder stories about nobodies, that might not teach you anything important but hopefully make you say "Huh! … Okay!" I know there’s not a ton of viability in that. The paradox of this beat is that it feels extremely stupid to fight for the privilege of doing it well and doing it in a sustainable way. I don't want to fight to keep doing this and end up 50 years old, talking into my drone's ring light about Jake Paul Jr.'s latest viral remixable hologram on Bleepblorp, in partnership with Cookie Crisp. For more than a decade, I got paid to surf the web and write about it. A pretty good run! I’m excited to do something else. Currently, I’m trying out what having mustache is like (scratchy).
Maybe at some point in the future, I'll figure out how to ditch the baggage and do this in a way that I feel unequivocally good about. But getting there means ending this newsletter forever and sealing it off from everything else I’ve done or will do, like it’s the site of a nuclear accident. I’d prefer that BNet form a snapshot of a very specific, very weird year in my life. I at least hope it’s made the past year a smidge less cruddy for you as well.
Thank you for reading BNet.