When The Internet Was Fun

Thought Catalog layout in early 2011
Thought Catalog layout in early 2011

Last weekend I read David Shapiro’s book, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, which is about a guy who graduates from NYU and starts a successful Tumblr called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. I initially thought it was a memoir, considering the real life David Shapiro also graduated from NYU and started a blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, but I guess a lot of it is fiction. Whatever. It doesn’t matter if this book is 90% true or 9% it felt completely real to me. The life David describes in his book is nearly identical to the life I experienced after college. It was during a time of infinite possibility. The Internet was evolving from a little baby into a surly pre-teen and suddenly this thing we used simply for entertainment and procrastination was becoming a world in which careers were built and destroyed, meaningful relationships were being fostered on Gchat, and everything started to matter more than the stuff that was happening to you IRL.

I was 24 when I started working full-time at Thought Catalog and while it might not be all that surprising, the website was very, very different from what it is now. It had strong ties to the alt-lit world and published a lot of essays that were written by Intellectual Adults. When I came on board I wrote about anal sex and 10 Things 20-Somethings Do In Their Twenties, and blew everything up with an LOL bomb.

To give you some context, this was in 2010, which was before Girls and Fuck I’m In My Twenties and the million think pieces about Millennials that flood your Facebook feed every day. I started blogging about my generation because no one else seemed to be and I wanted to jumpstart a conversation. When my articles started to go viral, I knew, for better or for worse, Thought Catalog had tapped into the zeitgeist.

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I don’t remember the first time I met David Shapiro but it was probably at some circle-jerk New York media reading series. When I started writing for Thought Catalog, my social life suddenly became full of Internet people like David. They were friends that weren’t really your friends but could relate to the giant embarrassing mind fuck that is being Internet famous. I remember telling my friends who had normal jobs about some silly beef between Gawker and Thought Catalog and they were just like, “Uh, you sound autistic right now. No one cares.”

Original poster for the 2011 Thought Catalog at Happy Endings

Way harsh, Tai, but they were right. No one cared, except for the other people who worked for the Internet. Together we had created our own little psychotic universe where we could feel important. We were like Revenge Of The Nerds, rejected by the IRL and taking sanctuary in virtual villages. Ugh. IT WAS SUCH A LOSER CONVENTION.

When Thought Catalog first started to get attention, people loved us. We were still fringe enough to be considered cool and our brand wasn’t well defined enough to alienate anybody. In February 2011, we hosted a reading series at Happy Endings in the Lower East Side. David Shapiro read something, Tao Lin, Leigh Alexander, and Kelley Hoffman did too. We were expecting 30 people to show up but the event ended up selling out. Oh my god, it was so validating. All the hard work I had put into Thought Catalog suddenly felt tangible and the Internet was like this bottomless well of opportunity! My life was going 120 MPH, except it was actually going in slow-motion because I was sitting in front of a computer screen 12 hours a day clicking refresh, refresh, refresh.

After the Happy Endings event
After the Happy Endings event

One of the most annoying aspects of the Internet is that it’s difficult to befriend people who aren’t psychos. Like, a lot of Internet people should just stay on the Internet forever because they’re so goddamn socially inept in person. Luckily, I managed to find some good ones. Kelley Hoffman, for example, was a good friend of mine and helped me navigate the dark, dark waters of the World Wide Web. (She has since divorced the Internet life for a nice job in San Francisco. Smart girl. The good ones always find a way out!) Stephanie Georgopulos and Brandon Gorrell, fellow editors at Thought Catalog, quickly became my best friends and family. The girls at Jezebel were always chic and so, so fun. And…well, I think that’s it.

Around the same time Thought Catalog became successful, lots of new websites like The Hairpin, Hello Giggles and XOJane started popping up. Big surprise, I was immediately obsessed with Cat Marnell’s writing. She liked mine too, so we became “friends,” and by “friends” I mean she went to a storytelling show I did once and left early because she felt like bugs were crawling all over her body. She also gave me the number of her drug dealer who, although nice and reliable, made me listen to him recite his spoken-word poetry whenever I bought drugs from him.

In 2010 and 2011, I bought drugs often because, well, I had a baby drug problem. I used pills to help me write and “open up my creative flow.” At first, it actually did kind of help. Some of my most popular articles were written while high out of mind. Eventually, though, the drugs didn’t help me do anything, except want more drugs. Still, it took awhile for things to get to that point. At 24, I managed to write all day, every single day for Thought Catalog while under the influence. But I guess you can do anything you want at that age. There are no limits. To anything, really! Not to the amount of drugs you take or to how big your career aspirations are. For almost two years, I sincerely believed that all the good things would happen to me and that life would continue on at an exciting pace forever. It’s hard to imagine myself being that naïve, especially considering it was only four years ago. It’s also hard for me to comprehend a time in which I was so fucking in love with the Internet, but I was. I was totally batshit in love. Even the things I hated about it, I loved.

Now I mostly just hate it.

Today David Shapiro works at a law firm and doesn’t really update his Tumblr. Cat Marnell is working on a book and hasn’t written for the Internet in…years? (Internet time is different than real time and it’s easy to get confused.) I left New York, the place that makes the Internet feel exciting, and write for TV in Los Angeles. I still write for the Internet (OBVIOUSLY, HON!) but it’s different now. My life is now IRL more than URL, which is nice and the way it should be. Still, I feel nostalgic for the period David describes in his book. A lot of it was insane and miserable but I don’t know. It’s fun being able to believe in every single thing. It’s stupid, sure. Exhausting, yep. But it’s fun. TC mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

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