This Is Not About How Young People Use Tech

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Taylor Lorenz, an internet culture reporter, discussed the tech she’s using.

You often write about what young people are doing with tech. (O.K. boomer!) What tools do you use to keep your finger on the pulse?

I spend a lot of time on social media. I’m on Twitter pretty consistently throughout the day to keep up with breaking news and what people are talking about. I also spend a great deal of time on Instagram and YouTube.

On Instagram, I create tons of boards of different things I come across on the Explore tab that I think are interesting. I have several Instagram accounts just for lurking. On YouTube I watch a lot of YouTuber vlogs, recap shows including Philip DeFranco’s and drama/tea channels to keep up with the stuff people are talking about.

I’m in a lot of Telegram groups and Discord servers for different meme pages and influencers. I also spend time in Facebook groups about celebrity news and pop culture. My favorite podcast is “Who? Weekly,” and I’ve gotten tips on stories from its Facebook group. Before I go to bed, I usually spend an hour (or more) on TikTok.

In addition to social media, I subscribe to a bunch of great newsletters that help keep me in the loop on things I may have missed. I love Casey Newton’s The Interface and this automated one I get of the top links from Hacker News. I am a big Business Insider reader, and it just started a newsletter about the business of the influencer world, which I’m excited about.

I also cruise around a site called Product Hunt every week or so to check out new apps and platforms. I’ll sign up for pretty much anything with a login page, and I love talking to product people about what they’re building, so Product Hunt is great for finding people like that. It’s also just a great community.

So that’s how you stay on top of what young people are doing?

One thing I never, ever do is start with the premise “What are young people doing?” I always start with an interesting user behavior, or trend, or meme I see emerging, and look at why it’s being expressed in a certain way or how it evolved.

For instance, I would never ask, “What new memes are middle schoolers sharing?” But I might observe a new meme format emerging on Instagram Explore, like niche memes, then interview people on what it is about that particular format that allows them to express themselves in a better way, or what emotions it allows them to communicate better, or what tools they’re using and how they could be improved. The fact that mostly middle and high schoolers are the ones sharing niche memes is relevant, but somewhat secondary.

What do you do with TikTok?

Honestly, the videos on there are hilarious and super addicting. What you do is essentially sit and watch an endless stream of entertaining videos until you get tired. TikTok also has commenting, messaging and live streaming, so you can engage in those aspects of the app as well.

Part of what makes TikTok so compelling is the “For You” page, which the app opens on. TikTok uses artificial intelligence to anticipate what type of videos you’re most likely to engage with, and feeds you a steady stream of that content. This technology has been so effective that the app’s owner, Bytedance, a Chinese tech conglomerate, was forced to introduce anti-addiction measures in the Chinese version of the app.

What is the most annoying internet trend?

I’m not sure if this counts as a trend, but I would say the harassment that I and many women in particular deal with online, especially on Twitter, is the most annoying thing.

I believe it’s directly tied to the broader trend of people spending more time in closed, moderated spaces, like Facebook groups, group chats, subreddits and so on. I think that shift is a natural consequence of these large, open social networks’ failure to create a safer experience for their users.

When you’re not working, what tech are you obsessed with?

I don’t ever have the latest gadget or iPhone, and my apartment is largely devoid of tech aside from my Apple TV.

I did recently re-buy an old-school Tamagotchi. I kind of wanted to take care of something and I can’t get a pet, so I raised a couple of little Tamagotchi animals for a few weeks, which was fun. I feel like there’s a big trend around nostalgia tech right now. I got the idea to buy a Tamagotchi from YouTube.

Aside from that, I don’t really use tech if I’m fully off the clock. I like to spend time outside or watching horror movies. I watch three or four horror movies a week, and I love Shudder, which is like a horror-only Netflix. It’s pretty much the only time I don’t check my phone.