Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath


Last week, I started messing around on Threads, the latest Meta social media app. It’s interesting, for a few reasons. I’m trying to figure out if it’s the technology, the social network involved, or me. But I’ve been enjoying the change of scenery.

Threads apparently was born as a reaction within Meta to Twitter’s acquisition and the ensuing dumpster fire that happened there. In many ways, it’s a clone of Twitter’s basic functionality: text updates with pictures. It’s mostly integrated with Instagram, or on top of Instagram, or whatever; you get the app and then auth with your Instagram to create your username.

My initial reaction to this was meh. I am not a fan of Twitter. To me, it was a random firehose of PTSD, a room full of people shouting at each other, each having a different conversation. I wanted to see the updates from friends I followed, and instead I got this unhinged jumble of bad jokes, hot takes, doomer news links, and random begging. I had an account there since 2007 or so, but I didn’t do much with it. For a while, it mirrored the updates I posted on Facebook and sometimes the posts I made here. But I seldom had conversations there, or found anything worth a reply. It was easy enough for me to kill it off entirely when it changed hands.

Threads showed up last year when I was in the process of quitting social media entirely, deactivating or deleting accounts, keeping apps off my phone. I still had Instagram, and when they nudged me to register and reserve my username, I jumped on for a second and immediately saw a ton of posts from someone I thought I’d blocked who was the reason for me quitting everything, and noped out completely.

* * *

Threads is the fourth full-length album by South Africa-based composer Jason van Wyk. Released in 2021, it’s also the first album from Oakland-based n5MD. I tripped over van Wyk’s work during an endless google storm looking for how ambient artists composed music, like what tools or processes they used. I don’t remember the outcome of that (those searches never work out, do they?) but it must have been as I was writing my first album, and I ended up stuck on this album Threads. It’s a very compelling eight tracks of deeply cinematic ambient music, a combination of both heavy texture and minimalism. The track “Where to End” is my favorite, about 3/4 through the album. It’s a slow roll of evolving sweeping tone, a relaxing build of painfully emotional synth soundscape. I love the album, and my only criticism is it’s only 38 minutes long. I feel like each of the songs could easily unfold for twenty minutes and I still wouldn’t be bored. Excellent album, but it’s a bit of a bummer about the name.

* * *

I’m not sure why I got pulled back into Threads. I’m sure Instagram had a nudge to it, or I saw someone on there with a link to their account or something like that. Threads had massive growth right out of the gate, then quickly lost about 80% of it’s monthly active users out of general boredom. Anyway, I somehow ended up re-downloading the app and poking around. And I found that I got a certain amount of enjoyment out of it, and was trying to figure out why.

First, I’ll mention TikTok. I don’t know why, but I signed up for TikTok, even though it’s like the end of the world to most people and will soon be banned in the US. (Or maybe it gets bought and becomes stupid and goes the way of Vine.) One of the reasons TikTok is good is the For You page and the algorithm behind it. Without even telling TikTok my interests, within a few swipes, it had me figured out, and started showing me stuff within my wheelhouse with an uncanny accuracy. For a consumer, it offered an incredible funnel for showing an endless amount of content.

I compare this to YouTube, which for whatever reason, just doesn’t do that anymore. I can’t tell if YouTube is trying to be TikTok or Netflix, and its algorithm seems to be very slow-learning and inefficient. If I watch three videos about B-17 bombers, it will suddenly show me nothing but clips about B-17 bombers that are largely identical to the ones I already saw, or it will continue to show the ones I rated, watched, and finished. I think at one point it was better, but either its algorithm has gone sideways, or it’s been fed so much mediocre algorithm-chasing garbage, it has become useless.

From a content creator standpoint, TikTok was interesting, because it put eyeballs on my videos from complete strangers. I didn’t get too heavy into creating anything there, and I had no intention of becoming an influencer or carefully manicuring content to pop in their algorithm; I was just dumping raw video from my vacation in Singapore to see what happened. In comparison, I did this project on YouTube that had a hundred videos and was not super catchy or narrative or anything like that, but was more of an experiment and I wanted to see if people would stumble upon it. And of course, they didn’t, and two years later, a lot of the videos have less than ten views. Any time I’m talking to another writer and they mention a video project and “I’ll just put it on YouTube and see if anyone’s interested,” my answer is to just not post the videos anywhere, and you’ll get similar results.

Social media has been bothering me a lot. Like I said, I completely quit it for several months last year. That was hard, and I realized I’ve had so many online relationships and connections and conversations, dating back to the first time I logged into a VAX mainframe in 1989. I couldn’t quit being online entirely, but everything online was so toxic.

And I came back and was somewhat guarded in what I posted and what I did. And in recent months, my social media has almost completely dried up. It’s probably some combination of the people I follow, the algorithm’s subtle negging of me, and the quality of what I do post, but I felt more and more like I was just yelling into the void. And also, I was not seeing anything anymore. I wasn’t sure if people stopped posting, I’d blocked too many people, or if Facebook was just crapping out. I’d sometimes log in after not being on for two days, and see the same exact posts I’d seen 57 hours before. I bounced between Facebook and Instagram, and it became completely futile. It felt like they were both over.

* * *

If you work with me, you know I always use the metaphor “pulling the thread on a sweater.” (If you work with me though, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Sorry.) Anyway, whenever I’m talking in terms of edits or writing, I am sometimes wary of fixing A, seeing B wrong, so quickly fixing B and that reveals C, D, E, and F, etc.

I guess this post is like pulling thread on a sweater. Also, I don’t really wear sweaters, but you get the analogy

* * *

When I got back on Threads, it followed a few people from my Instagram list, but I did not suddenly get 600 followers. That was sort of liberating to me, because I had to start over, and I didn’t care about followers. I am a content creator in the sense that I write books and blog here, but I’m not an influencer and I’m not a micro-niche’er and don’t care about followers, because I’m not trying to make money. (Also worth nothing that Threads is not currently monetized, and has no ads.) I started posting, but largely used the For You page to scroll through what it showed me. I’ve got some great friends on Facebook, but I also have a lot of people I went to school with forever ago that I am completely out of touch with, a ton of writers who added me to try to sell their horror books even though I don’t even read horror books, and people who know me as some previous version of myself that doesn’t exist. Declaring persona bankruptcy is nice.

The FYP situation – it learned me semi-quickly, showed me a lot of photographers, a lot of cats, a lot of travel. It showed me a fair amount of the Twitter-esque bad open mic one-liners and hot takes and unpopular opinions, which I ignored. There was a decent mix of both photos and text. But that’s the fun part: text. People were actually writing.

One of my obvious observations about TikTok is that video has set a lowest common denominator that is far too low. Everyone talks and video is very pervasive, more than text or audio. Everyone on TikTok is just a million followers from being rich and famous. Everyone is the main character. And because it’s video, it’s very easy to get pulled in. I’ve sat down in front of TikTok, swiped away, and found an hour instantly gone. It’s extremely addictive.

And I want to word this carefully, because I don’t want to sound like an incel or an anti-porn crusader or something. But TikTok has a Hot Girl Problem. I know it’s the algorithm, and I know the algorithm is based on what I see. But it seemed to very quickly pick up that I was a white heterosexual male without me purposely seeking out this content. In fact, it is downright scary how fast it figured out my type. I have nothing against people making videos of themselves. But there’s a lot of low-effort content that I think directly monetizes or weaponizes the male loneliness epidemic. And when I want to look at cameras or old cars or travel spots, I don’t really need to see attractive women showing them to me. That’s all Facebook Stories and Instagram Reels show me. I’ve said “not interested” on clips for weeks straight, and that’s all it shows me. Like I said, free to be you and me, but I’m married. I’m old. I just want to see cameras I don’t need to buy.

Anyway, Threads is interesting because it’s showing me conversations. Words. People I don’t know. Things I wouldn’t normally see. It’s been pretty light on politics and has learned fast on what I like. The Hot Girl Problem is a lot lower, and it picked up fast that I wasn’t interested. And I haven’t gathered that many followers, but the people who have been interacting with me are largely strangers, which is interesting. I think the big problem with Facebook is you have this silo, and you rarely have people outside of the silo interacting with you, and then only a subset of the people in your silo see your content. So it’s interesting to see new people out there.

* * *

I was trying to think of the first time “thread” became part of my vocabulary from a messaging standpoint. The term “multi-threaded” would pop up here and there in the early 90s, mostly when bitching about the Mac’s multi-tasking fails back in the System 6 days. (Insert that little bomb icon…) Neither C or C++ had threads, at least until POSIX threads showed up in the mid-90s. Same with green threads in Java, which was JDK 1.1 in 1997.

I don’t know if Usenet specifically called conversations “threads” or if that was a casual term used by readers. In email, RFC 822 goes back to 1982, but it didn’t strictly introduce the term. It did define “In-Reply-To” and “References” as optional fields in an email header, but didn’t specifically say that they could be used to organize messages by thread. (RFC 2822, which obsoleted 822, does mention threads, but it came out in 2001, long after the term was commonplace.)  I swear the elm email program had threads, but I can’t find a reference to it. Pine did. Eudora definitely did. VMS mail absolutely did not.

(Sorry, I’m sure nobody cares about this. It was stuck in my head, though.)

* * *

Threads is a bit addictive. That’s a problem, and I need to take things in moderation. I can’t waste a ton of time on there, and I can’t let it influence how I write outside of Threads. Matias Viegener wrote a book called 2500 Random Things About Me Too!, which was inspired by the Joe Brainard book I Remember. Viegener’s book was a book of lists, where every day he would log in to Facebook and write a list of 25 things. He mentions how at a certain point, he spent his entire day thinking in terms of lists. Like he’d go to the grocery store and look at the fresh fruit and his thinking would be partitioned into how his observations would fit into lists. And I find I have the same problem with Threads. I walk around the neighborhood, see a sign, and start thinking about how I could formulate some hot take about it, a “what’s the deal with airplane food?” that would get random people to like me. All of this is useless, except maybe that the bad internal monologue that I cannot shake has suddenly been gone.

And then there’s the age-old problem of what I should be writing there. It’s public, so that limits it a bit. Is it like Facebook, or like Twitter, or like MySpace, or what? And which who is writing there? What persona do I use? What part of my life do I amplify? I have the same problem on this blog, and I have the same problem with my writing.

My first entry on Threads:

Crisis of confidence about first post on a new platform re which persona should be presented or niche hobby I should micro-obsess over when I’m not currently interested in anything but day-to-day survival mode and should be writing. Anyway here is some McDonald’s ketchup in Taiwan.

(There’s a picture of a Taiwanese ketchup packet there. I’ve had an abnormal amount of McDonald’s content. Honest, I don’t eat there regularly.)

* * *

I stumbled across Devin Townsend’s podcast recently, and quite enjoy it. I was only vaguely familiar with his musical work, but the podcast is an incredible journey of him talking to various guitar geniuses about their creative process and thoughts on art. It’s amazingly motivating to hear someone like Steve Vai talk about how they work and how they get past writer’s block.

Townsend is somewhat infamous for his metal band Strapping Young Lad, and also for having serious anger management issues, going off his medication for bipolar disorder, and basically imploding in about 2004. He had extreme anger and sadness over the music industry and everything else, and he basically had to completely remove himself from the industry, get sober, cut off his hair, and spend years just being a family guy and not getting involved with music so he could recreate himself in a new direction.

In one of the podcasts, Devin addresses this, and how he struggles how to reconcile his old work with his new. He’s really hard to categorize in general, and has bounced between prog-rock, metal, new age, ambient, and combinations thereof across his 28 albums and counting. But Strapping Young Lad is a pretty heavy albatross to have hanging around his neck. A particular issue he’s had is that people, especially metalheads, will lock onto those early aggressive metal albums and want basically a dozen more copies of the same album from 1995. And the problem there is he’s not 1995 Devin anymore, and has gone through extreme change through extreme effort to not be.

That’s probably the best summary of my crisis of persona right now. A lot of people on Facebook and a lot of people who bought my early books think I only write that, and I am that. I’m not a bizarro writer. I’m not sure I’m an absurdist anymore. I’m trying hard to change exactly what I am. I feel like I’m much better now, but I don’t know who I am as a writer. All I know is when someone makes a callback to a short story I wrote in 2012 or asks me when I’m going to republish my old books I can’t stand looking at anymore, that’s a problem.

Like I said, there’s something freeing about sitting at a blank slate. I still don’t know what me is supposed to be writing there, though.

* * *

Anyway. https://www.threads.net/@jonkonrath. Not how long the experiment will run, but we’ll see.


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