Very Fine Day #2: Taylor Lorenz
TAYLOR LORENZ is an internet culture expert. She writes for the New York Times, and is working on a book on creators, to be published with Simon & Schuster. Both in her ability to influence the conversation around the internet, and her intrepid journalism, Taylor has achieved the dream of many reporters: becoming synonymous with their beat.
VFD: I feel tired. And I was going to ask you about that.
I think it’s because part of writing about the internet, and internet culture, and teens and platforms, is figuring out how they work. And then once you figure out how they work, at least from my perspective, part of your job is also gaming those platforms so that what you write does well. It’s like: once you figure out the game… why do you keep on playing? But maybe that’s just how I feel.
Taylor Lorenz: No, I feel the same way. Like: what am I doing with my life? I can’t be doing this when I’m, like, 40. But it just… I love being in journalism and I love covering this beat and there’s always something going on on the internet when you’re writing about internet culture. But there’s also no logging off. So it becomes all-consuming.
VFD: Yeah, how much sleep do you get?
Taylor Lorenz: I don’t sleep very much, y’know, I live in L.A so I wake up for East Coast internet and then I don’t go to sleep until West Coast Internet goes to sleep. So I feel like I’m in this permanent three-hour deficit.
VFD: When did you move? You were in New York, right?
Taylor Lorenz: I was in New York. I’ll definitely go back to New York but I moved last year, about a year ago. Or was it a year ago? It was like last Summer. I’m like: what month is it even? With the pandemic I didn’t want to quarantine in my tiny apartment in New York. My apartment in New York was less than 400 square feet and everything I write about is out here - I come out here every year for months on end anyway. So it’s been great, it’s been really nice. I have family out here too, which is cool.
VFD: Is that were you were born? In California?
Taylor Lorenz: I was born in New York City. So my dad’s family is from New York City, and I also still have a lot of family in NYC. But yeah my sister is in California and some other aunts and uncles and stuff. So yeah, it’s nice.
VFD: I think it’s quite an American thing to have family spread out across the country. I feel like it’s not as common in other countries.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, It’s so funny I feel like my family is particularly all over the place. I literally have family all over. And it’s always funny when I meet other friends where their family just all stayed together. I feel like, especially in my immediate family, everyone just went out. But it’s kinda nice… It makes the country feel smaller to feel like you always have a cousin somewhere.
VFD: Yeah cool,
Taylor Lorenz: I want to come to Australia.
VFD: Good luck at the moment. But yeah, you should.
Taylor Lorenz: My sister worked in Australia in a champagne factory for a year.
VFD: Oh, great, where abouts?
Taylor Lorenz: That's a really good question. It was somewhere kind of like remote I think,
Taylor Lorenz: I don’t know. It seemed to be really scenic. She was living in Croatia and then she moved there for a year and I'm so mad that I never visited.
VFD: I mean it's pretty nice compared to New York right now. There's like 25 million people in the whole country. But it’s pretty laid back. We have it pretty good here, especially now with the pandemic.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah I mean, it seems way better.
VFD: How have you dealt with the COVID stuff.
Taylor Lorenz: It's just really bad. It's really bad in the States. And it's really bad in LA. So I literally just don't leave my apartment. I go, maybe I go for a walk. But everything's totally closed down so it's just very stressful. And the vaccine rollout is really slow. So who knows when that will happen…
It's just kind of like trying to make it through. The good news is that most of what I write about is online, so I'm just in my room with my laptop all day.
VFD: Is that like escapism? Have you written anything about the pandemic?
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, I wrote a lot of related stories. I wrote a big piece earlier on GoFundMe. Do you guys have GoFundMe?
VFD: I think it's available to us on the internet. I think I think we can do it.
Taylor Lorenz: It's like the biggest thing -
VFD: What we do have is viral tweets and comments of people being like, “Australian healthcare system: free. American Health Care System: please sign this GoFundMe so I can get a leg surgery.”
Taylor Lorenz: That's literally true. Yeah, so it was really stressed. I think it was at one point – I’m gonna get the figure wrong – but it was like… over half of the GoFundMe petitions in the pandemic were related to health care costs. In the middle of the pandemic! It might have been more than that – might have been even like 70 % –but it was something crazy.
I mean, everybody was losing their jobs. Everyone's losing healthcare. So GoFundMe was just experiencing this insane growth. They had to make this whole COVID section and I wrote about that, and then wrote a lot about like, everyone spending time on Zoom.
VFD: Yeah, I still can't believe the Zoom thing happened the way it did. Like: how did G-Chat and Skype and everything else that already existed lose to this thing that seemed to just get a lot of pickup in schools and then went from there. It's pretty unreal.
Taylor Lorenz: It’s really crazy. I know. It's weird, because I guess I've never used Zoom before. And then everyone’s like oh Zoom. Everybody do a zoom. Like, we'll talk on zoom. Like, it's just so second nature?
VFD: It's like a verb.
VFD: OK, so how did you start? Not so much writing on the internet, but I guess how did you start in realising that this is what you wanted to do?
Taylor Lorenz: That's a good question. Honestly, I didn't necessarily know.
There's a couple of things that happened. I graduated into the recession so there was basically no jobs. There wasn't a lot of entry level jobs. I had done a bunch of internships, but I interned to have all these great fashion internships and I didn't want to work in fashion. I just kind of took those jobs to be in the city and I didn't really know what I wanted to do.
VFD: Were they like “Devil Wears Prada”? Kind of like grab my coffee, angry people.
Taylor Lorenz: It was! Actually one of my bosses had a paint chip - it was like a Benjamin Moore paint chip – and she would give it to interns and be like, this is how I want my coffee mixed. Like: this is the level of cream. She was cool about it, but I was always like, wow…
But I interned at YSL and Donna Karen and a bunch of other places. I was in the fashion closet at Harper’s Bazaar. And I did PR for Ferragamo. And I just realised I don't want to work in fashion. I kind of just did it because my friend's older cousin was head of PR at Gucci and she helped us get these fashion internships and I wanted to live in New York City. So I was like, Okay, cool. You got free clothes. That's cool. But then I graduated and I was like, Okay, now what do I actually want to do? And I knew that I didn't want to continue with fashion.
Editor’s note: The following has been including after publication to provide clarity.
To be clear, I worked my ass off in fashion. When you're an entry level fashion employee you're basically schlepping garment bags all around the city and packing and shipping boxes. It's manual labor. I like to joke that my friend's older cousin got me my fashion jobs, and she definitely inspired me to work in the industry, but the truth was she only helped me get one interview. I didn't even get the job she tried to help me with, but she turned out to be a great mentor to me for years. I was never super passionate about fashion, but the industry seemed like a gateway to a less stressful life. This was the mid 00s, so fashion PR girls were a whole pop culture genre, but it was so much work.
To get my Harper’s Bazaar internship I got the internal Hearst directory and emailed 700 people there about why I should get an internship. I also stalked outside their office for an entire day to “run into” an editorial assistant there and did a few other crazy things to get on their radar. To get my Donna Karen internship I created an entire tribute book about her and grovelled to HR for three summers before they hired me. At YSL I had to work my entire winter break and missed the holidays with my family. My job was restocking and organising sample sales. I spent all day getting berated by rich Upper East Side women screaming at me and trying to haggle prices for a garment that was 70% off.
On top of school and the 9 internships I did (yes, nine), I always worked two full time jobs. I sold replacement windows door to door and worked as a receptionist at an art during the school year. I also started my own baking company. During the summers, while I was interning 40 hours a week in fashion, I worked retail every single weekend at a clothing boutique, then I nannied at night. I just wanted to live in New York City and it was the only way I could afford the cockroach infested student housing I sublet from the School of Visual Arts.
Then I was working at a call centre. I took this job for minimum wage at a call centre just to have a job. And I would spend a lot of time online and I started temping. So I was registered with all these temp agencies. And I was mostly just filling in as a receptionist and an admin of a million places.
Taylor Lorenz: And I just didn't know what I wanted to do. And this girl that I temped with - they made us share this little cubicle, like, really close to each other – She was like, Oh, I just kind of go on Tumblr all day. And I was like, what's Tumblr? It was like 2009.
She introduced me to it and I was like, Brad…I just… my first day on it I was addicted to it. The first day that I got Tumblr I remember it. I remember going home and I was on it til six in the morning. Like whaaaat is this?
VFD: Were you very “online” before then?
Taylor Lorenz: But I didn’t really use it… I kind of used it to maybe upload an album from a party.
VFD: Yeah, and it would be called like: “07.09.2010.”
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah exactly. But no, I was never into that stuff. I went to art school for a minute, I thought I wanted to be an artist, and I just tried a lot. I worked so much. I always had at least two jobs, I always had an after school job, I always had a weekend job. I feel like most of my growing up was working and interning and working and working. And so I just didn't have a lot of like leisure time to spend on the internet.
So I kind of feel like I missed out on a lot. My friends are always talking about viral videos from 2004 and I always feel like I like just missed out on this early internet. So I guess when I got on the internet– and I really got on it in 2009 - I caught up. I was really making up for lost time.
VFD: Tumblr was a good place to do that. And then, what, they got bought by Yahoo and that just crushed it drained it.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah that kind of killed it. But it was this gateway into so many different universes for me. I felt like before Tumblr my whole world was basically just my very small group of friends from home. And I didn’t really know people outside of that. And I wasn't meeting people on the internet. So I just kind of knew these people that I grew up with, in New York City and then interned with in New York, and I didn't have a very big world. I never felt like I totally fit in. And when I got on Tumblr, I just like… I fit in. I just was like: there’s so many people on here. And so I started making blogs. I made my main blog and I would write on it a lot of embarrassing stuff…
VFD: Yeah, are you gonna share your username or anything?
Taylor Lorenz: Oh my god. I mean I have deleted half the posts on there but I had my main Taylorlorenz.tumblr.com and then I had one that was “Taylorlorenzconfessions.”
Taylor Lorenz: And I would write the dumbest shit and be overly in my feelings about stuff. And then I would make these… I'm sure you remember it, it was like the “Fuck Yeah, Cupcakes!” era. So, I just started to make Tumblrs based off of things to see how many followers I could get on them and I wanted to get reblogged. I thought it was like a big deal. I used to keep this spreadsheet of who reblogged me.
VFD: Ha, very good.
Taylor Lorenz: And I remember it was my goal to get everyone that worked at Tumblr to follow my Tumblr and I did get that eventually and it was like this huge achievement. And I started messaging and commenting and engaging with people from Tumblr. And then they started to like… be nice to me. They invited me to Tumblr meetups and I went to this Tumblr Christmas party,
VFD: Oh wow.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah and so I met all these other people from Tumblr. And I also used to go to fan meetups. I used to just go to like… there was these Tumblr people in New York that had followers and they would be like: I'm going to this bar, and so I started to kind of just make friends in the Tumblr world. And that kind of introduced me to the media world because there was all those media people on it back then.
Taylor Lorenz: And I was like: Wait, who’s running Tumblr for, like, NPR? Like: I should do that. And so through Tumblr I got a job at this ad agency that at the time was like Ad Week Agency of the Year and they were ramping up their social department because Facebook had just rolled out Facebook Pages.
They wanted people that had kind of “been viral online” to run social media for brands. So I worked at this ad agency called Mcgarrybowen. It's still called Mcgarrybowen, it's still around. But at the time, they were at the peak of the height of all the big clients. And so I worked on Verizon, I ran the Verizon Facebook page.
VFD: What a claim to fame.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah I remember I did the Verizon 9/ 11 ten year commemorative Facebook post.
VFD: Was that stressful?
Taylor Lorenz: I just remember having a conversation with a client because they wanted all this really bad stuff in it. I don't want to expose Verizon but there was one client there that wanted to put the Verizon logo in the lights and make it this whole thing. And I was just like… you can't do that.
VFD: Well, that was why you were getting paid. That's good.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah it was before Brand Twitter was really bad, too. Like, I kind of pitched in on the Bud Light Facebook Page and some other, y’know, corporate Twitter accounts. And Twitter wasn't even really that much of a thing. I mean, it was like 2011. So it was kind of crazy… And I was obsessed with the Daily Mail, so I was still reading a lot of news. And I kind of thought that I might want to work in news.
Taylor Lorenz: I feel like when you're running a brand account, you always kind of run out of content. Like this was before content marketing was a thing. So we just never had content to post, I would always just post stupid things. And I was like, it must be cool to run social for a news thing, because you always have content.
And so I noticed that the Daily Mail did not have any social media – Like they really didn't even have a Facebook.
Taylor Lorenz: Which was crazy. Because it was like 2011. So I ended up getting in touch with them and pitching them on this idea of, hey, let me run your Facebook page for you. Let me be a social media person. You guys have no social media people.
And so the publisher was like “OK”, and he hired me. And initially, he was like, you just do the social media for the US. And within a month, it was, “well, you guys don't have social media for the world, so I'm just going to be the Global Head of Social Media.” Which I thought sounded like such a big title, but it was literally me and this one girl that was on the SEO team that ended up helping me on stuff. But yeah, I ended up building out their whole social team and running that entire social team. So I managed a dozen people… I helped hire the Australian team, actually,
VFD: You helped hired the Australian team? Wow. Your influence… what do you think of the Daily Mail now? Not to say that you created it but from what you just told me you literally created it.
Taylor Lorenz: No, I mean, the toxic part of the Daily Mail… I mean, The Daily Mail… What I love about it – it's like pure tabloid news and I love tabloid news. I was so obsessed with tabloid stuff in the 2000s. I would always love to read Page Six. I don’t know if you guys have Page Six but it’s the gossip section of the New York Post. And I just have always loved gossip news and tabloid news. And so, y’know, I know the Daily Mail has all of these problems, and I get that, but… I like to think like that when I was running the social media, I feel like I did it ethically. And it is still, y’know… it is what it is now. I learned so much about story framing,
VFD: Oh yeah,
Taylor Lorenz: And it was a great crash course in all that.
VFD: And then you were you were in politics, right? That was your first reporting job.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, so I went from running the Daily Mail’s social to… I went full time freelance. I actually started to do consulting but I wanted to be a reporter. And I tried to get this job as a reporter and I took a job for like six months and they just weren't giving me the job title “Reporter”. And I was like, “OK, fuck this, I'm just going to go back to running social media.” So I filled in for this girl as Social Media Director at Refinery 29 and then I started consulting for Time Inc. And I helped launch this sub-brand under People Magazine that was focused on internet celebrities, just YouTubers and all this stuff, which I was writing about since Tumblr time when I was writing about internet culture. But nobody would publish my work, really, in the mainstream media.
But I was writing for the Daily Dot, I wrote a little bit for BuzzFeed, I wrote more towards the internet publications that were actually publishing stuff on internet culture. And then I would just keep this social media stuff for my day job. And the Time Inc. job, they kind of wanted me to move to LA, and I didn't want to move to LA, so I took this job running social media for The Hill, which is a political news outlet.
Taylor Lorenz: And I oversaw their social media and video team. And what I really took that job for was to work for Neetzan Zimmerman, who I always thought was such an icon. He created The Daily What, do you remember that?
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, he was founder of that. And he was sort of in charge of internet stuff at Gawker and really famously, like, quadrupled their traffic. And he just has an incredible sense for news and virality and story framing. And I just took the job because I wanted to work for him. He's very intense. And I loved it. I learned a lot from him. But yeah, it was hard. I was on the campaign trail in 2016 and I was writing on top of running social for my day job. I had a Snapchat show, I was overseeing Facebook Live, I was, y’know, pitching it on the Twitter account, doing all this crazy stuff, managing people, also on the road, also travelling, doing interviews, doing real reporting, and then writing about, like, YouTubers on top of that. On the side, I started writing for Mic.com. So anyway… who cares about all these details… But I basically did that for two years. And by the end of 2017 I was so burnt out on politics and I always have two jobs – I always have a main job, and then my job on top of that – and I was like: OK, I really have been writing about YouTubers and internet stuff for almost 10 years at this point.
I mean, it was like eight years, technically, because it's 2017. But I just thought: This has to be a beat. Like, I wanted it to be a beat. And I knew that that you could get a job writing about internet culture because of Katie Notopoulos. Do you know Katie Notopoulos?
VFD: Yeah. Yeah, I love Katie.
Taylor Lorenz: She's like who I always wanted to be. I just wanted to be like her. And I still always want to be like her. And she covers internet culture but differently than me. But yeah, I was just like: I just want to be a full time internet writer like Katie. And I feel like if Katie has a job, then like, I'll make the job. I know the stuff I'm writing about is valid. I just have to prove that to the mainstream media.
So I took this job where I cut my salary by 70%. I went back to an entry level salary – I ended up making less than my temp job. And all I wanted was the job title “Reporter”. So I took a job as a Tech and Culture Reporter at The Daily Beast, and I was like: I just have to write about the stuff that I determine. Like: You have to let me write about my stuff. And they were like, “OK, whatever.”
Taylor Lorenz: So they hired me as that. I sold all my belongings. I moved into this tiny crappy apartment with three roommates in Crown Heights, and then I basically started over again. And I was like: OK, I'm gonna do this for six months and if it doesn't work out then I'm gonna go be social media director for like, some fucking corporation. Like: “I don't even care, I'm giving up.” But it ended up working out.
It was kind of weird. It was kind of the perfect time to switch because it was right that Winter when Logan Paul, y’know, posted the video of the dead body…
VFD: In Japan,
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, yeah. And it was weird. For some reason that story popped off to such an insane degree. And I just had a bunch of series of hits at that job. And I think I started to think: OK. I can actually do this. And then ever since then I’ve been doing it full time.
VFD: And doing pretty well – I think it's like safe to say it was a good bet.
Taylor Lorenz: Sorry that was like such a long description of my career, which, like, who cares? But -
VFD: I think a lot of people would care. Like, I think it's very easy to think of… so I was going to ask you this as well: It’s like, “The idea of Taylor Lorenz”.
I know you probably don't want to hear this, or might feel uncomfortable about it, but you've moved beyond being “Reporter Taylor Lorenz” and now you are the cultural Zeitgeist, you are the dictator of where we go, right? Like, things might not be trending. And then Taylor writes about them, and they become trends. And that's such a powerful place to be. And I think it is good to hear your whole story leading up to there, so that people realise that it wasn't just like you fell into it and got lucky. Which I think… I think on the internet, people can be very mean and very cynical.
Taylor Lorenz: Oh people always say on the internet that I have a trust fund or whatever they think. I mean, what's crazy is that I've been such a public person on the internet for over a decade now.
Taylor Lorenz: Like people know me from Tumblr. I have followers now that are followers of mine from Tumblr. I have been building my audience for literally a decade. Y’know, I have a strong audience and a strong community because my followers, we've been together on the internet for a long time. So I feel like people don't always realise that. I mean the reason that I have such deep sourcing in the creator world is because I've been writing about it for a long time and I was there for a lot of it. And also, like, when I was big on Tumblr, a lot of YouTubers were big on Tumblr, and people were not recognised and given the respect they need. And that's always been the whole driving thesis behind my beat. It’s like: giving these people that are doing things online respect and treating online culture like it’s real. But there wasn't many people doing that. It was like Katie Notopoulos, Amanda Hess, Jenna Wortham…
VFD: One of my favourite things written, ever, is by Katie. And it's probably not even one that she remembers writing. And it's about the pop-ups that try to email capture, right? And it was probably 2017. And it was the start of those email captures, where instead of saying “no thanks” they'd say, like, “I don't want to be ripped”, or like, “I don't want to be skinny.” And she just wrote this really great thing about the thought process behind something like that, which is so kind of evil. I get what you mean. Like: That is how I want to write about the internet. When you see something like that and take it a layer deeper. It’s so good.
Taylor Lorenz: And Katie [Notopoulos] just does the reporting. She’s not going to, like, make fun of Furries or be like “ha ha, look at this stupid culture.” She just kind of has an eye about it, it’s not like she’s totally buying into crazy stuff, but she actually just talks to people and I always felt that nobody did that. When I was on Tumblr and I did a bunch of weird Tumblr projects, reporters never talked to me about it. They would just kind of make fun of it, or write some silly thing, and people just weren't really there reporting. I mean, I could do a whole episode on Katie. I used to keep this spreadsheet where… this years long spreadsheet that I kept, and every time somebody else wrote an article that I loved or that I wish I wrote I would put it on the spreadsheet. And I would categorise the outlet and the writer and what I thought of the story – just a little blurb – and it was literally just all Katie stories. I’d be like: this story was really great. Like: I love how she did this. For like, literally no one. I tweeted about it once but I deleted it because it’s actually so weird.
VFD: Do you ever feel anxious about the kind of access you give to yourself in order to talk to others? I feel like you are very public facing. I mean I've seen you tweet about your dating life. I've seen you tweet about needing to find a place to rent. Actually, did you tweet out your place to rent? I think maybe you did that too.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah I did, I did. I sold furniture on the internet on, like, Instagram Live and stuff. I mean… the security people are always like, don't do that. It's funny. But definitely the past year has actually been a total flip for me. I feel like what I loved about the internet is that I could be myself. And I could connect with people. And I could… I felt like I fit in, in a way that I never felt like growing up. I just never felt like I fit in. I mean I had learning disabilities and I switched schools a million times – I went to three different high schools. And I was always failing out of some class and it just… I kind of felt like when I got on the internet, I was like : Oh my god… I can be myself and I can write about myself and I can share all of these thoughts or things about my life.
In the past year I feel like it flipped where I don't talk about myself and I go to great lengths to obscure stuff. I mean… I don't really talk about myself. Nobody ever knows where I am or who I'm hanging out with. I mean, first of all: it's the pandemic, so I'm hanging out with no one. But y’know, what happened is that I just started to get a huge amount of harassment and it has been really disorienting. So it has kind of made me shut down. Also, it’s like, the more media attention you get the more people think that they know you,
Taylor Lorenz: They make you into a caricature. And you kind of start to lose the narrative of who you are online. People have this whole narrative about me online, and it's not true, and it's so disorienting to see a different version of yourself reflected back to you through people… not to make it like a therapy session, but it's been really hard for me to deal with it. I don't like that. Because I feel like I'm like: “Wait, no, you guys know me!” It’s like: “I've been here!”
VFD: It has been quite interesting, as someone that has also been writing about internet culture, I've followed you for years, and to see the interactions you have go from the standard, predictable, troll armies to CEOs of companies publicly calling for you to get harassed. It's a different kind of thing.
Taylor Lorenz: It is a different kind of thing. I mean I want to go back to being normal. It's stressful. But also people are weird – sometimes I reply to people now and they're like: “Oh, you replied… so embarrassing for you to be replying to me right now” because their account has 500 followers and I’m like “I reply to everyone!” What do you think I do?! I don’t know… People shit talk me a lot online too and I see all of it. And I’m just like, wait: I'm…I'm here…
There are those journalists that are on another level and they don't read their mentions. But I read all my Mentions and I try to respond to every DM. I keep all my DMs open. I feel like to be a good reporter you have to talk to people and you have to hear people out… and it's hard because it's like, you also get exposed to so much hate.
VFD: Well, how do you feel about the state of the internet then? Is it still good?
Taylor Lorenz: I don’t know, I mean it’s so bad right now. It was really bad last year. I feel like last year was the worst year but I think it's getting better. I'm trying to have people see me as more of a person…I took “New York Times” out of my bio and I’m just trying to be more… I want people to see me as a human being and not just “oh New York Times reporter says…” Because I think that's what's happened. There's so much weird identity stuff online and people will just latch on to one little thing. Twitter sucks. There's this TikTok that I love that I always look at when I get upset about Twitter and it's this guy parodying the way people talk on Twitter… I really do think Twitter's breaking people's brains. I think Twitter is bad, but I think other places are good. I love Twitch. I love Discord. I'm in a bunch of cool Discord servers that I love. So I'm kind of spending more time in those types.
VFD: Yeah, I think definitely there's the the second wave of social media in Facebook and Twitter and people are very much moving away from them, but also because they're moving away from people. You know, Instagram is just a magazine. And Facebook's just a marketplace. It's all just… it's not what it was.
So how did you deal with it? One thing for me that used to shoot me up the wall -how did you deal with that kind of “trivial” period of internet culture reporting, which was probably 2013 to 2018 or ‘19, when people were not – and I don't just mean like the public, I mean journalists and bosses, too – almost everyone was like: “That's not a thing. You're not a thing. This is dumb.”
Taylor Lorenz: Yes, I know the pain. I feel like every single step of my career I've had to fight to make this a beat and fight for people to get it taken seriously. I mean, I've quit jobs over it… It's just something that you have to keep validating. And it's very frustrating. And it's very hard. And it kind of makes me mad.
Sometimes I get kind of petty because all these fucking VCs are now like: oh, the creator economy! or whatever. Meanwhile, they were shit talking my reporting six months ago being like, oh, you're not a real tech reporter. I’m like: well are you a real VC? Because now you're investing in all this YouTube shit. But anyway, I think it's hard for people to understand emergent beats in general. And I think that people didn't take the internet seriously. I know you were saying 2013 to 2019, but I think there was a little bit more of a break, because I think it was 2012 to 2016 where I just remember they were like: can you just write up this meme?
It was sort of just aggregating Twitter. It would be like: People On The Internet Are Mad or This One Tweet Says Everything. And, man, I just don't want to aggregate Twitter all day. So there was a lot of that kind of stuff, where I felt like pushing to do the bigger stories was just more of an uphill battle because you were in this daily content churn. And then post-2016 I think people started to realise: Oh shit, the internet… it’s… bad?
VFD: Yeah, like, it elected a president!
Taylor Lorenz: Right. Like: oooh should we take this seriously? But even then I think it was still treated as this “other” thing. It wasn't totally enmeshed in our lives. And definitely now it is. Definitely with the pandemic. And also, I write about the creator economy and influencer economy and that I think was just still so nascent. There wasn't the money that there is now and I think part of that is TikTok reviving the social space. Also Patreon becoming a billion dollar company, and just all of these things maturing and all of these platforms maturing I think just helped validate this as a beat.
VFD: How do you feel about… not to get all “Ethics In Journalism” on you. But I feel like there is a different form of ethics that comes along with internet reporting and culture reporting, because for one thing: most of the people you talk to are 15, or 16. And there’s everything that comes with that. They'll tell you about their entire life and their boyfriend and how they were pregnant and you're just like: Oh, Lord, please stop. And it’s like a rebirth of what is the best ethical practice for writing online about the internet. How do you approach that?
Taylor Lorenz: I mean… I just talk to everybody that I interview no matter what age they are with a level of respect and care. Y’know I make it very clear, obviously, that I'm an adult and I think that's important. I think that when you talk to kids – and I say kids but even 22 year olds – but I want them to be like you're talking to me and I'm serious. Like: I am a person that you need to take seriously.
VFD: Yeah, totally.
Taylor Lorenz: And even if you don't know me, like, you should. And I think if you go into an interaction with that, but also take them seriously, they'll respond to you more. Instead of being like Oh My God, you're 15, what's cool? What's happening? They won't respect that. I wouldn’t respect that if I was young. Like if some Boomer comes up to you and patronises you. I mean every kid that I talk to, usually I'm like, “Hey, can I talk to your parents?” So I've developed friendships. I mean, I'm good friends with a lot of the parents and a lot of times, the parents are in their ‘30s and ‘40s. They're so young. I talked to one mom the other day who was a year younger than me and I was like, how do you have a teenager? Oh, what year did you graduate? It was the year below me. And I was like I guess… I’m old already.
VFD: What do you do when… you know you said “never offline, always online,” well what do you do when you're not enjoying it? So I guess: what do you do when you're getting harassed? And do you log off? Can you log off? Is that actually helpful?
Taylor Lorenz: I do log off. But I do find it very hard. And I'm sure you feel this way too – when you have to know about everything… there's no “work time” versus “personal time.” I’ll go on TikTok on the weekend and see something, then it's work related. And also, I just think you have to keep track of culture and where the conversation is and how people are feeling and the mood of the internet. And you don't really get that if you don't spend a lot of time online. But I like to watch horror movies and stuff so I just totally turn my phone off when I do that.
VFD: Yeah, the way I've always described it to my mom is being like: it’s not like there’s a party and I’m not invited. It’s like there could be a party and I don’t know if it exists. But I should probably find out.
Taylor Lorenz: That’s a good way to put it. It's like you always feel like you're like “Wait, are people hanging out without me? Or what are people doing?”
VFD: Yeah, it like taps into the parts of why so many people went online and latched on to social media in the first place, which is wanting friends and wanting to be involved, and wanting to have someone with shared experience.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah.
VFD: And then you make it your job.
Taylor Lorenz: But it’s hard to do because I feel like the internet – and this is what was so hard for me in the past year – I feel like the internet is the only place I feel at home. It’s the only place… it’s such an outlet for me that I think it would be so hard to just eliminate it. But if I was a billionaire, I mean trust me I would.
VFD: Oh for sure. It's like, all the way to Honolulu.
Taylor Lorenz: I don’t understand why any really rich person is on the internet at all. At all. It makes no sense.
VFD: I'm really hoping… by the time I'm 30 I want to be off.
Taylor Lorenz: I mean, I always watch Katie [Notopoulos] and Katie's a mom. And I always thought “well, when I have kids, I'll have to just not be online anymore. Because I'll be busy kids.” And I don’t want to be on mom internet all day.
VFD: Oh, that is a whole other thing.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, mom internet is scary.
VFD: So what do you think the future of the internet is? Let's not go too broad. But I guess the next four years. What do you think? You could throw in Clubhouse if you want. You reckon that's gonna be it?
Taylor Lorenz: I mean, first of all, they're literally speed running every single mistake made by every major social platform, just all into one. It's crazy to watch them do it. But I don't know. I do think that audio is clearly a compelling medium. Like I said, I spend a lot of time in Discord and voice chat and playing Fortnite with my friends and I think there's something to audio. I was talking to someone else about this too, because I argue whether the internet's gonna get better or worse. And I think it's probably that we're still in a bad period for a while. As long as Facebook has a monopoly… I just don't think things are gonna get better.
VFD: And does anything scare you about the way we're heading?
Taylor Lorenz: What scares me is these people who have no critical thought about the internet. There's this narrative that if you criticise these platforms you're anti-tech or something. And I hate that, because I really do think of myself as an optimist around technology. I love it and I'm so interested in these platforms of communication, and I feel like my life has been so saved by social technology. But it’s weird, because we're in this place where if you criticise it people say “oh you're a tech hater or something?” And it's like… I just don't think that three billionaires should control literally everything.
Taylor Lorenz: So yeah. I hope that things can change online. We need more of an indie community.
VFD: Do you think there'll be regulation or do you just think that Gen Z will pop up and they’ll all just be hackers and coders. And they'll just create a whole bunch of fragmented social experiences.
Taylor Lorenz: I mean, I think probably that will happen. Not that I necessarily want to spend time in those social experiences that are created. After spending all week in [Reddit community] Wall Street Bets I’m like “OK…..”
I don’t know. No shade to Wall Street Bets. That’s just overwhelming. I mean, if there is some kind of regulation I just doubt that it'll go far enough. I think that a lot of these lawmakers don't even understand what they're trying to regulate. So I think it'll probably be consumer-lead. I think a lot of people will just start spending time in other places.
Taylor Lorenz: Because I think ultimately it does make you feel bad and there's more awareness around the drawbacks of spending a lot of time online. “Online”, as if being online is somehow different than like “Offline”. But I just think people are sort of reconsidering where they're spending their time.
I wrote about Zillow surfing. Why everyone was spending time in Zillow. And I think part of that was kind of wanting to spend time on your phone entertaining yourself but not wanting to be in a social media app experience. Y’know, you get to scroll through this feed and have this kind of fantastical like dream about your life, or if you bought this house, and you're still going through information and learning things, but you're not in a social experience where it's just overwhelming… It's just a negative vibe.
VFD: Yeah that’d be nice…. Just a nice experience. Say goodbye to doomscrolling and it's all just people enjoying themselves.
Taylor Lorenz: Like a Zen Garden app. I guess that Animal Crossing is kind of like that.
VFD: OK – this is the last question. And it's a question I’m asking everyone. Because I think it's important. I think with interesting people and people that are successful, and people that have figured out a niche for themselves, it's easy for the public to think of their life as being simple. As it just happening. As flowing. And so I ask everyone, when have you failed? And what is your biggest failure? And do you think you actually grew from it? Like, honestly? Or is it just, like, you fail? And that's it? And then you just keep trying until you hit it, right?
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of experience with failure because I failed a lot in school. And so I feel like I failed… I failed at a lot of things because I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I think I just had to fail out a lot of things on the way. I tried to become a lawyer, I tried to just do a lot of stupid things that ultimately I bombed. And so what's the biggest failure? I kind of think I could do everything better. We had to do these performance reviews and I wrote this insanely critical thing… And it’s kind of like my head is always like: You've fucked up. You're bad, you're bad.
VFD: There doesn't have to be a moment.
Taylor Lorenz: It's less like failure and more like regrets. Like, I made really stupid decisions. Where I’m just like, why did I do that? But it usually ends up working out if you just keep focused. I don't know. I failed at so many jobs after school. Like every temp job. I remember I got fired from a temp job right before Christmas, I was at this Hedge Fund, which honestly sucked and it was so stupid. Y’know, I was a temp so I would work anywhere. And they had me do these mailings, mailing everybody all of these binders of financial information at the end of the year. And I mailed everyone the wrong binders so I got into huge trouble. And they were like you sent all this financial information wrong.
And the woman was so nice she was just like “you don’t have to come back after Christmas.” And I was like “oh so when do I come back? two weeks from now?” And she said “No you don’t have to come back, like, ever.”
But it was weird because it was one of those things where I started that job and was like maybe I’m going to be a marketer at a hedge fund and make all this money but I would have been so bad at it. But yeah, anyway, it's just a stupid example.
VFD: I think… from what I have learned from this conversation, is that there is an enormous amount of merit in recognising when you're not happy, or not getting what you want, and doing something about it. That seems like that's what has led you to being where you are. It’s not settling for being okay. And I mean… it has worked out, at least I think it has, I don't want to talk for you.
Taylor Lorenz: Oh no, it has it has. I mean, I feel like life is a journey. And there's a lot of things that I think I could have succeeded at. I think I could have just continued being a Social Media Director and probably made more money. I feel like I like writing because you talk to people and learn every day. And so I'm glad that I found this job. I mean, I also realised that you have to have confidence to know what you can do. To be like: I'm qualified for that, y’now?
I met this guy who was a friend of a friend who's a media reporter at the New York Times, in like 2012. And I never really met a reporter before, especially not at the New York Times. And he was telling me about his job and I just remember being like, this guy doesn't really know about media. And I should be a media reporter at the New York Times. And I was telling my friend that and she was like, I don't know, Taylor…
Which was so funny, because I definitely couldn't at the time. But now that I'm in this job, I'm like, “yeah, people could do this job.” You just have to -
VFD: - Make it happen.
Taylor Lorenz: Yeah, you think everything is so unattainable, or you put things on such a pedestal, and then you get there and you're like, “Oh, it's just people.” It's just people trying their best… And once you get to a certain level of success, there's so many unqualified people. I felt like that with colleges. I didn't get into so many colleges, I really only applied to one college and then I tried to transfer… but I remember the dumbest people got into some really good colleges. And I was like, wow, this whole system is a farce.
VFD: Well, it's good that you've haven't held onto that.
Taylor Lorenz: Ha… Yeah. That’s the lesson I tell kids when I talk to them now. Anyway, It's so great to talk to you because I’m a fan of your work and I love your stories…
VFD: Thank you, I appreciate that. I think, like, my regret is I kind of let it defeat me. Rather than pushing through it, and sticking to what I knew was good, I just kind of was like, it's not happening. But you learn from that.
Taylor Lorenz: And I love working at the New York Times, but I just don't know what I'm gonna do.
I've always wanted to be an interior designer. And I kind of hope that I'll do that too.
I think you just have to kind of figure out what makes you happy and what works for your life.
VFD: OK, thanks Taylor. Thanks again.