A Post-Virtual Community That Still Loves Email
One caveat to living in a metropolis like New York City is that it can be hard to stay connected with a group of friends. People live in different neighborhoods, work in yet other neighborhoods, have different schedules, and only really find time to hang out on the weekends. Everyone’s a singularity flowing into and out of different clusters, temporarily together but ultimately alone. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. I interviewed a group of people who have figured out how to keep hanging out even when they’re apart.
At the Sex Magazine Issue 8 launch party a couple of months ago, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. Predictably, I asked him, “How do you know so-and-so?” His answer surprised me. “Through an email list called The Thread.” He told me that The Thread is an ongoing email conversation through which he and 23 other people spend their days talking to each other. Many of us have unwillingly ended up on email threads that go on and on as if by accident, but this one is consensual. They even have an ongoing Google Doc of rules (“Sadness is communal”; “Don’t Threadcest”; “No Buzzfeed articles”). Fascinated by this strange take on an online community, I asked them for an interview, and the assemblage immediately approved. True to the spirit of the group, they co-authored and -edited their responses in a Google Doc, and you can tell they’ve been doing this for a while because it reads like a dinner conversation.
After reading this, you may ask yourself ‘how do I join this ingenious post-virtual community?’ You probably can’t. There’s a rule for members not to invite anyone without the permission of the rest of the Thread. But, hey, maybe starting something similar with your friends would be better anyway? Plus, you can always admire their madness on Twitter @thread_heads.
“The Funniest Table in America”
What's the Thread?
PAUL The Thread is real.
JASON The Thread is family.
NICK The Thread is everything.
FORREST The Thread is a group email.
SARA The Thread is ducking insane, all crazies.
MAX The Thread is expansive and unending.
AL Sam said it best: the Thread is “The Funniest Table in America”
ZACH The Thread is a single conversation that’s been going on between 23 people for 24 hours a day for over a year. We’ve sent more than 50,000 emails to the Thread and still going strong.
How did it begin?
AL When I got my first desk job, I had lots of down time so I decided to email my closest friends with a list of ‘summer goals’. Before this email, I sent a ‘Wednesday inspiration’ email to about 50 people, encouraging others to Reply All. It went on for a little while but only true Thread members were able to keep the conversation going for this long.
NICK We all came together at Macri Park on Sinko 2013 (Cinco De Mayo), then we came together everyday in an email chain.
SARA There were a lot of group texts.
LEIA Omg, group texts that broke people’s phones. That’s when I said I hated 206 [Nic] and only knew him by his area code, 206 — not even by face. I had no idea who he was and he broke my phone by uninterrupted texting and didn’t even stop when I was trying to go to LA, lol.
MATT Al sent emails to a bunch of her friends all at once without permission and wouldn’t let anyone out of the email chain. Born from boredom, raised on insanity.
PAUL I joined when I was planning on visiting America, end of last summer. Subject at the time was “re: fondu”
TAYLOR The group texts were ruining our lives. We were at work and constantly getting texts and it started to interfere so we took it to Gmail. The summer goals list is what really pulled me in. I was ready to accomplish things with friends that actually mattered, like finding a rich sugar daddy.
WIN I joined when we were all talking about Myers Briggs, which was shortly after a St. Patrick’s Day dine-and-dash at a sand-themed bar.
JASON Al came over to hangout in my backyard and use my WiFi. We started listing all the fun things we wanted to do that summer. Next day she sent “summer goalz.” Then it was bug bites, myers briggs, the look, we have to make 3 movies, family band, music vid bbq. The first time we exceeded 100 emails was “Re: bling ring”
ZACH The Thread consisted of lots of smaller groups of people who were starting to become friends out of nowhere. Many already knew each other. These were “Thread Assembles,” although they weren’t called that for a while. I forget when it started actually being called “The Thread”. By June 2013 it was generally assumed that some combination of Thread people would hang out literally every day. Another thing that contributed to the formation of the Thread was that most of us had no jobs or barely had jobs, so pretty much d4w.
MAX I knew most of the people from the Thread before I sent my first email, either through college or mutual friends. Later, due to my FOMO I was invited to be a part of the Thread.
What do you talk about?
AL I can’t think of anything that we haven’t talked about TBH. If you don’t like the subject matter, you don’t have to contribute.
SARA A lot of sex stuff. We love to speak of sex.
PARIS The Thread is the best in the early morning when censorship is lost between malaise, lingering intoxication or early morning psychosis.
MATT Sometimes we anonymously cyberbully people.
SARA We make party and travel plans and try to do a lot of projects. We tried to have a fondu party. It never happened but the Thread was called re: fondu for three months. We went to Marblehead, MA on a road trip and during that time the Thread was called re: marbz.
LEIA Annoying things at work, people that piss us off, emotional support...
SAM We talk about people in New York or LA that we know. The gossip is unreal. On a fairly consistent basis we discuss how horrific and embarrassing it is to be alive.
PAUL The day to day, art, work, lunch, ongoing projects, advice, encouragement and discouragement, gambling, graffiti, camping, the rent being too high, living in this and any other goddamn hellhole of a city.
JASON It’s one long joke.
ZACH A lot of times it’s nonsense. It will be 50 replies, one or two a minute, just changing the spelling of a word in funny ways. Sometimes it will be very witty, other times it’s like two brain cells split 15 ways. In general we talk about whatever’s going wrong or right with some or none of us and try to take the edge off.
JAMIE Stuff that probably isn’t funny to anyone else besides people on the Thread. For example: How you would use lunch meat and office supplies together? (Faxing a meatball, stapling salami.)
DAN Whatever kind of baggage I feel like dumping onto others is what I talk about.
NICK Having sex with ghosts, doing it to yourself (di2y), daily advice columns. We used to have a serious astrology addiction. We also talk about “Bushwick’s Living Room” and other stupid Bushwick bars/restaurants.
TAYLOR The Thread is a healthy rotation of venting, creative pitches, advice, jokes, events, essentially 24/7 emotional tech support. There were many times the Thread saved me from having an emo breakdown.
MAX The Thread has no boundaries, almost every topic has at one point been touched upon. The Thread is like a river of information and emotions, each member: a tributary.
Does the Thread have a specific function or purpose? Has it stayed the same?
SARA The Thread is constantly changing and growing, lol.
NATALIE The Thread is a good way to stay busy at work without doing your job.
AL It is a safe place to talk about whatever you want to talk about. We make plans. But mostly it’s a place to joke off because everyone on the Thread is hilarious.
SAM The Thread abuses Gmail for laughs. It keeps us sharp, like going to church, AA, or a book club, but better.
PAULThe Thread is safe.
ZACH Everyone’s really funny and I think it makes everyone funnier. It’s a place to say what everyone everywhere is thinking and lose your mind. A lot of living in New York (or on the Internet) is just dumbing out and going with whatever ends up happening. The Thread is a nice safety net for that.
JAMIE The Thread is home and like Sam and Zach said, if I go a few days without reading the Thread I feel like I’ve lost a part of my sense of humor. Humor is very important to us. You cannot be on the Thread if you’re not funny.
DAN The Thread is the only thing I have that’s sacred.
NICK The Thread just calls me crazy all the time, but for the most part it’s a safe, kindergarten story time environment.
TAYLOR It’s in constant flux, sometimes it’s a bunch of people screaming over one another and other times it’s just one punch line strung out for hours.
PARIS The Thread is topical and sometimes people laugh at your wit and expand on it and it feels good. Also people fight sometimes. It's great drama! 5 stars.
MATT There is no inherent purpose. It is a vessel for executing a mob mentality. I mean that in a good way.
MAX The Thread is community, how many people can say they talk to 23 of their closest friends all day everyday?
I met one of you and I asked “how do you know so-and-so” and they responded “via the Thread”. Have many of you met this way? Have all of you met everybody else in person?
AL Many Thread Heads went to school together in Connecticut.
SAM We didn’t go to Yale.
LEIA We were already friends mostly. Forrest added 206 who was a rando at the time that he knew from Seattle. Dan came to my house in New Jersey after I asked on Twitter who wanted to come because I had a van for the weekend. He came and so we added him to the Thread.
SARA I’ve only met Paul once. Otherwise we hang out IRL regularly, unless you’re on girlfriend / boyfriend island, in which case you are the worst and gtfo, jk.
SAM My favorite thing to do is hook things up for non-Thread members and then brag about the extensive Thread network as if its such an accomplishment. But the thing about it is that it does feel very accomplished. Being on the Thread is like going to Yale.
PAUL I’ve met more than half, if not all of the current members, and knew many from before, but I’m the only member who does not live in the New York area full-time. Although, other members have lived outside of NY for weeks or months at a time, and other members plan on leaving NYC soon, so I imagine they would stay on the Thread as long as they want to…
WIN I live in Connecticut and see Thread members in NYC most weekends.
MAX I’ve met everyone on the Thread in person, but I haven’t seen Paul since college. At that stage in our lives he was just a cool guy who drew a giraffe in this guy Ant’s bathroom during a party. However he did it under a poster so Ant didn’t see it until he was moving out and became furious. Ant began referring to Paul as “Paul Jerkowitz.” This is why I like Paul.
JAMIE What’s interesting about it is a lot of people get interested in online communities when they don’t have anyone immediately around them to discuss their interests with offline. We’re backwards. We couldn’t get enough of each other IRL so we spend every waking moment communicating with each other via email.
MATT The most important thing is that we are not connected by any explicit vocation, background, education, or interest. We are only united under the common theory that we “get it”.
What are some positive things the Thread has brought you?
MATT While I prefer to focus on the negative aspects of life, I admit that the Thread has carried me through hard times. Not by providing positive reinforcement or group therapy bullshit, but more like a bunch of people standing in an electronic circle that I can unload all my shit to, which is met with shrugged shoulders and a feeling of “so what.” And I think that’s actually more important than having someone tell you it’s going to be OK.
SARA I’m more familiar now with the creative potential of Excel spreadsheets and Google docs. The Thread also allowed us to realize that we are all Bisexual.
LEIA Def all bi.
SAM Everyone on the Thread is bi, and if you weren’t bi before joining the Thread then we all got there together which is a miracle, I think. Also, this is yet to be fully catalogued but The Thread has introduced about a thousand Thread-only neologisms, terms and phrases that only we use and that we are just desperate to see enter general usage. I shriek with laughter every time I hear one:
“CNRUFC” = cool nick are you fucking crazy
“beng hem” = have sex with him
“walk the dog” = tweet from the group account @thread_heads
“drop” = drink alcohol to point of temp paralysis
“di2y” = self-destruct
The list goes on and on...
WIN Having 24-hour access to stylish women and bi men was crucial when I needed to buy a new pair of glasses. And buying gifts for my Mom and Stepmom at Christmas.
PAUL Constant and reliable advice for all categories of life.
JASON The Thread provided a new home when I got dumped (thx Matt + Zach).
DAN 23 of us share an HBOgo password and feel less alone in this cruel world.
JAMIE The Thread gave me something to do when I was bored at work. When my job and love life were in the pits, the Thread made me feel better and I think all of us can say that.
NICK Lots of new friends, memories, crazy stories.
PARIS I made friends with 23 wackadoo people in the first month I moved to NYC via the Thread. Thank goodness.
MAX Lots of really bad decisions and a feeling of exclusivity.
AL I’ve gotten pretty terrible advice from the Thread, often being encouraged to “beng hem” (have sex with him).
Are there any rules?
AL HELL YES THERE R RULES:
LEIA So many rules but we tend to break them a lot. I have only looked at the rule doc once because I am a rule breaker by nature/ignorance.
SAM The first rule of The Thread is to always talk about The Thread.
PAUL Sam is right.
NICK Don’t break Thread trust.
SARA Never proof-read, just let it rip.
DAN My biggest rules are 1) don’t throw me under the bus and 2) don’t talk about my children.
AL You’re not allowed to move to California.
MATT The only real rule is you have to like everyone’s Instagrams.
MAX Drop hard or don’t drop at all.
It seems pretty rare to sustain one conversation with lots of people online. If I'm in a Facebook group conversations I end up leaving it or turning off notifications pretty quickly. Gchats feel very fleeting or temporary and usually don't involve more than a couple of people. How do you keep it good?
SAM I’ve referred to the Thread as “the funniest table in America” because it feels like a perpetual dinner table convo that is always funny and mean, but mean in the friendly way of love between friends who respect one another’s lives and opinions. We happen to be people for whom life would be unbearable without hilarious small talk.
SARA We keep it alive by not sending “kill emails” lol, like really awkward oversharing TMI that weirds everyone out, but frankly that behavior is a THREAD DO. The more histrionic the better.
LEIA It’s hard to stay on top. When I didn’t have a job or worked at home it was much easier to participate but now I work a labor job and can’t ever be on email so it sucks. I tend to miss it and think about it a lot. I def have Thread FOMO...
PAUL Sometimes the Thread stalls and someone has to jump in and spice it up. It’s good to complain or brag about your life while being both berated and congratulated for either.
JAMIE The Thread is overwhelming at times. If I haven’t looked in a while I get stressed out about it, but knowing that the Thread is going even when I’m not around brings me a sense of comfort. We’ve invited people to be on the Thread before and they immediately thought we were crazy and had to opt out, but I get it. We’re freaks.
MATT You don’t treat it like a conversation, you treat it like a collage.
NICK The Thread works because it’s an email thread without constant notifications, no need to sit down and read everything instantly, although a lot of us do that. You can catch up at the end of the day and it’s a nice read.
MAX It isn’t always good, sometimes people kill the thread, but they always own their mistake and it comes back to life.
ZACH Sometimes (usually during business hours) we will fall into a mind-meld and hone one inside joke until it’s perfect.
DAN Literally quit your day job and become a cunning linguist.
TAYLOR I think of that film “Office Space” when I think of the Thread because email is the one “prop” that movie missed out on. The tech wasn’t really there for it at the time, but their ennui is what drove them to do funny, illegal shit. Our ennui gravitates us back to the Thread — while we slave away at our day jobs. I worked in a room with no natural light for a year for 12 hours a day. I literally did not experience winter and I started to lose my mind. It was jail. The Thread was like a view of the outside world I had become detached from and it made me human again. Sorry not to make it about me (this is a major Thread don’t). Everyone on the Thread might be some of the most amazing, talented, funniest people I have ever met.
What's the serious/fun ratio of the Thread?
AL It’s pure fun but we are here for each other when things get serious. We give each other advice and edit things for them, we “workshop,” we help each other move. We have fights but they are resolved fairly quickly because there are more referees, more points of view.
LEIA Yeah there are def moments where we all disagree and it gets catty for like, four emails but since there are so many mediators in the Thread it gets resolved fast. Usually it ends in another rule to the Thread doc.
SARA Anytime I try to talk about something serious on the Thread, Matt or Win make fun of me instantly.
AL Oh yeah the time I thought I was pregnant and was crying in the street, the boys made jokes about it. Jokes for hours. “Ctrl-Alt-Delete that, Al.” Assholes.
SARA Remember when we were both suicidally depressed and calling out to the Thread for help and Nick called us the “boys who cried wolf”... or the time I revealed that I am partially blind in one eye and now blind jokes are like, a thing. Omg I hate the Thread.
PAUL Jokes are serious and reality is humorous. There’s no other way to live.
JASON 100% fun at everyone else’s expense including your own because di2y.
JAMIE Paul is right. It’s mostly fun, but I always feel comfortable talking to them about anything serious. They know everything about me.
ZACH I’m trying to think of a 100% serious thing on the Thread and I can’t.
NICK I think we deal with a lot of serious topics by using totally insane humor. If you bring up something serious, you’ll get advice and an answer EVENTUALLY, but you’ll have to put up with a lil roast beforehand.
MAX I take all the serious stuff like a joke.
SARA You have to be willing and able to be a target for ridicule.
DAN I feel like it mirrors real life for the most part; we can’t help but be ourselves 24/7, for better or worse (def worse), so it unfolds as it would if we were hanging out IRL.
MATT The ratio is a 50/50 split. The overall feeling I would describe it as is that it’s similar to making a 9/11 joke.
How does this compare to how you use (or have used) IRC, AIM or other more old-school chats?
AL More reading is involved on the Thread compared to other platforms. You have to address more than one issue/person at a time. You’re conscious of how you compose emails and you develop a style, but you don’t have to proofread or use grammar or anything because no one cares. You can read it at your own pace. “Catching up on the thread” happens a lot and it’s super annoying to read through literally hundreds of emails. But it’s worth it.
SARA The fact that it is on Gmail as opposed to Facebook chat / Gchat / group text, makes it less conspicuous for those of us who are at work.
PAUL I think a lot of us grew up on AIM and the social aspects of early blog platforms like Livejournal or Xanga, which encouraged very comfortable text-based communication when we were in high school. That also made talking on the phone redundant.
JASON The Thread is our own personal IRC channel and Gmail is our mIRC (one of the clients you can use to connect to IRC). There are no admins or mods... but we’ll be sure to throw a kickban your way if you don’t respect the Thread and it’s safety.
SAM The NSA is kind of like our admin, which sucks because they will put us in jail eventually or have us killed.
ZACH AIM had a/s/l to learn more about chat users. The Thread has a spreadsheet with more personal info about me than my family could tell you.
NICK I was on the Thread for several hours of my work day on and off, and now I’m unemployed. I’d laugh so hard at my desk sometimes and it was impossible to cover for.
FORREST I was never into IRC, but I started going on forums in fifth grade, and started using AIM shortly after. This is something I’ve done almost daily for 15 years. The forums/chat clients/social networks changed over time, but the need for constant community and someone to hear you talk is the same. The Thread fills the same purpose. It’s a place where your friends are, always.
MATT It’s not a chatroom because it has a sense of permanence. You can reference the Thread. You can ignore the Thread. You choose your participation level. From a usability standpoint, it is very scalable. I say ‘very’ because there are very real limits:
A favorite moment or quote?
AL Oh yeah, I liked when everyone was super into the Macarena and our winter break assignment was to send the Thread a video of ourselves doing the Mac. The time we cyberbullied those horrible people on Craigslist was good too.
SARA Basically Basel — a mock Art Basel Miami Beach themed party. I hosted it at my apartment in Bushwick. I kept the “art” we “exhibited” up on my walls for months afterward. The dress-code was Basel attire, meaning artist, curator, critic, collector — but tacky Miami versions of that. Someone brought a bucket of fried chicken and we all drank rum out of decorative coconuts. Some of us huffed nail polish while others wore goddess wigs and made sand art. There’s a pic of Sam wearing driving gloves and a speedo, pouring champagne into my open mouth from above.
SAM I tried to convince my art critic friend to write about our Basically Basel party for Artforum. He didn’t want to write about it, but he came and he had fun, I think.
LEIA Def Threadsgiving. Omg I loved that night. Also Secret Santa at Dallas BBQ was very good.
WIN There was one day when someone texted Al that he thought they were going to bone on a roof. That led to a daylong, highly erotic, intensely funny list of all of the places we have fucked or sucked or tugged or fingered under the open stars. Turns out there's not a single corner of this earth that hasn't been soiled by a Thread Head.
MAX I love hearing about who is having sex with who and what bad decisions were made the night before. I’m a gossip queen and a diva of secrets.
MATT One of the funniest things was altering the gender of a semi-famous DJ on his Wikipedia page, which flew under the radar for 24 hours.
DAN Everyday there are multiple moments that are so funny and cool I can’t even pick one.
FORREST I need to start starring all the good jokes.
PAUL The Thread spreadsheet that contains elaborate information about everyone might be my favorite. I’ve checked it at parties mid-conversation to confirm my own Myers-Briggs type when it comes up. Very helpful document.
ZACH I liked rolling with the Thread to my hometown and getting kicked out of a yacht club almost immediately. There’s so many eras of stuff smashed into the thread. Being really into Dallas BBQ, poppers and sex-negativity and Foursquare. Watching Hocus Pocus for Halloween, which my parents’ house in Massachusetts was featured in. Me, Jamie and Nick started a short-lived band Varsity Blues, and a sub-genre, “Jock Wave.”
JAMIE “Reply All” was a party we threw at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg with our favorite DJs and people actually showed up. Another time we all went to Zach’s parents’ house in Marblehead, MA. One night a bunch of us laid on Zach’s parents’ roof and screamed pop punk songs for hours. That’s when I realized how lucky we are to have each other.
NICK Making it all about ourselves everywhere we go.
Follow The Thread on Twitter @thread_heads.
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