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An Age of Archives: What Rookie can teach us about the internet

You may have heard the name Tavi Gevinson last autumn when her article for New York Magazine ‘Who Would I Be Without Instagram?’ went viral. In an overdue call to end the assumption that social media dictates ‘realness’, the 23-year old writer-turned-actress-turned-internet presence aired her dirty laundry about the way Instagram fuels a facade, then revealing how she now posts via the conduit of an assistant in order to reduce the number of people she thinks about on a daily basis from 500,000 to 20. Behind her words are damning truths; the Internet today maintains that because trends swing back and forth into focus, ephemerality dictates patterns both online and in real life, and the rush of information paired with the desire to keep forward-thinking and remain ahead of the type-written curve can seem, quite frankly, like too damn much

Gevinson is the innovator behind Rookie, the online magazine born in 2010 that catered for a unique teenage experience. Steering away from the ‘getting-a-boyfriend’-centric mainstream, the website provided material for politically charged, and creatively curious followers. From the depths of her teenage bedroom a product bloomed, an online ‘year book’ of heartfelt and groundbreaking content that has cemented Rookie a cult Internet destination. 

If you’re now wondering why I’m bringing Gevinson and Rookie back into the topic of the day, and why I refer to the site in past tense – it’s because there is a facet of the internet which remains available to us in a way that is not overwhelming or hard to stay on top of, simply because it remains dormant. Back in 2018 Rookie collapsed, and in an emotion-filled letter to her readership Gevinson explained the main reasons for leaving the project out in the sun, which foregrounded inadequate funding, but also included a sense that she had outgrown what now feels like a time capsule for a very specific phase of life. 

Sites like Rookie are online legacies, and are part of an archival Internet shaping that is not only fascinating but also rewarding to utilise. Perhaps because it isn’t meshed in gloss, and is distanced via the conduit of a screen, our tendency to think of the Internet as an archive, a way of looking into the past, isn’t as intensely charged as the incoming stream of mass media. In a time of pandemic when we are consistently searching for words, creativity and new ways to pass the time, I encourage you not to use the Internet as a source of anxiety and panic, but as a probing device, a tool with which you can find exactly what you are looking for. 

Deep in the depths of Rookie are plenty of hidden gems. Interviews with wide-eyed teens such as Hunter Schafer – now famous and star of HBO’s groundbreaking show Euphoria – encapsulate the pulse and vulnerability of adolescence. It feels a little naive in places, especially where the earliest posts of teenage fantasists experimenting with journalism dominate, but this is part of its charm.  There are also interviews with young activists including two survivors of the Parkland school shooting, showing that the editors are not afraid to tackle difficult subject matter at the expense of the day’s most pressing and politically relevant issues. There are eclectic Friday playlists to curb your music enthusiasm, and hundreds of articles, book excerpts, comics, reviews and diary entries that home in on the teenage experience in all its brazen Technicolor. Although I didn’t write any of these posts, or even read Rookie when it was in its heyday, it still feels steeped in nostalgia and most importantly, a side step from present circumstance. 

In the age of isolation the importance Internet has been rephrased for us in so many ways. ‘Zoom’ is now a firm addition to our lexicon, as are many new outlets and extensions to our devices. And really when you look into it  *sweeping statement incoming* the internet is full of projects, of creativity birthed from crisis; ideas that took off and then landed with grace, now free to peruse with leisure. Some of the other sites I might point you towards if you are into Rookie are gal-demThe HairpinThe ToastLenny Letter and intern (still live but of the same ilk). When you can’t go out to the shops to get a magazine, let these resting publications fulfil your deep-seated desire for collage and subversive news. 

When we’ve had time to recover, people will look back at this period, at the creativity and content made, and use at it as an archive. The tone of the messages sent to each other when the world was in crisis, the status’ we left on our Facebook pages, the memes we shared, the Tik Toks we recreated (don’t worry, I’m not *there* yet), the stress Google searches we made, the books we re-read, the music we streamed – it will all be taken in; hopefully it will reflect back well on us. 

Artwork by Mia Sorenti