On Tuesday night I had this conversation with my daughter:
Me: Got any homework?
Me: Whatcha gonna do?
Anna: I have a map I’m working on.
I didn't think much of it. Anna reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels and has done some writing of her own in the past. I figured that maybe she was doing something like that.
The next morning I found this on her desk:
As you can see, Anna has some interesting ideas about geography. Certainly some amusing ones.
She was in school so I couldn't really talk to her, but I did text her and asked if I could post the map on Twitter. Anna said it was fine, so I did.
It's been less than 48 hours since I posted the map. Since then it has been viewed several million times, has been liked by over 325,000 people and no less than two separate concepts on the map -- "Long Chile" and "Ohio2" -- have trended nationally. When I woke up yesterday morning someone had sent me a link to a Cincinnati Enquirer story about it. By the time I went to sleep last night it had been featured on CNN, was on Reddit, Mashable, gaming websites, had been cited on several podcasts, and had been on multiple local news channels across the country. I've gotten several more media inquiries about it since I started writing this.
CNN had a series of questions for Anna about it. Anna happily answered them:
CNN: What inspired the map?
ANNA: It was inspired by me seeing people not from the U.S. trying to label maps of the states and failing miserably.
CNN: What would you like people to know about it?
ANNA: A lot of people are asking why Alaska is not on it. Alaska didn’t get blown off the map, it’s just not part of the Americas anymore.
CNN: Tell me more about Ohio2.
ANNA: Does anyone really want to know more about Ohio2? Nobody even wants to hear about Ohio1
CNN: What do you have against Wyoming?!
ANNA: Nothing against Wyoming. It just doesn’t exist. Having it on the map is like putting Hogwarts or something on it.
So yeah, it's been quite a thing. And while this kind of silliness tends to stop pretty quickly, it has yet to show any sign of stopping today. When it comes to viral stuff, Facebook lags Twitter by several days, so it's only a matter of time before your grandparents start sharing it.
I know this, because even if this is, by far, the biggest online blowup I've ever experienced, it's not the first time my kids have gone viral.
Back in 2016 I navigated to Wikipedia one day and was met with a message that said someone at my IP address had vandalized a page. The offending text, which had been excised by perturbed editors, had appeared on the page for Mallard ducks. It was not written by me.
After interrogations, I discovered that Anna, then 12 years-old, had done it. I asked her why. She did not have a satisfying answer, but the real answer revealed itself in her non-answer: she is basically just an agent of chaos. She's the dog who doesn't know what she'd do if she ever caught the car she was chasing.
As with the map, I asked her if I could share it with my Twitter followers. She said yes and it was greatly enjoyed by what, at the time, seemed like a lot of people. Maybe a thousand or two.
Before that, way back in 2009, when Anna was five, I found this note on her bedroom door:
You don't get threats like that from little kids all that often, but just as Anna is not like most high school sophomores now, she wasn't like most kindergartners then. She does not drink milk anymore. She has not for over ten years. I wouldn't dare give her any. I want to live.
Anna is not an only child. She has a younger brother, Carlo, who has himself had his fair share of social media fame. Three years ago, when he was 11, this happened:
It was picked up by Reddit and a bunch of other places. I still have a lot of commenters and social media replies who give a "thicc" shoutout whenever I mention my son.
Less than a week ago, a series of photos of junk food my son and his friends assembled and posted on Instagram went viral. He and his friends do this almost every weekend. They spend the night at a friend's house, pool their money, walk to a gas station, get as much garbage as they can afford, lay it all out on an ironing board and post it to Instagram. They call it the "Snack Rack":
When I posted the Snack Rack pics -- just this past Sunday -- it set the record for the most seen/liked/retweeted thing I had ever posted. Which, given that I have been a professional journalist for an international media company for a decade, is quite the damn thing. Carlo -- who is a bit more of a plugged-in and online kid than Anna is and who spies on my Twitter feed a lot -- was quite amused by it.
Anna's map quickly surpassed his snack rack in terms of traffic and attention by orders of magnitude and, for a time, I was worried that he'd feel overshadowed. In the past two days, however, I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't bother him very much. I believe he thinks the snack rack is better and more authentic than the map. Like a punk rocker thumbing his nose at some major label band with more record sales, he seems to be smugly satisfied with what he feels is his greater artistic integrity. A number of my Twitter followers agree with him. As a father who does not play favorites, I will not weigh in on the matter.
When Carlo's stuff passed 8,000 likes earlier this week he said that since I used his photo "for Twitter clout," that I owed him something. I asked what, exactly, it was that I owed him. He said "Buy me a sweatshirt" and sent me the link to a pretty damn ugly sweatshirt which is totally his style. Since it wasn't super expensive and since it's winter and he could actually use another sweatshirt, I said OK and ordered it for him.
He must have told his sister about that, because yesterday we had this text exchange:
I mentioned Anna's belief that she had "earned AirPods" on Twitter and, quickly, I was inundated with demands from followers that I buy Anna AirPods. Many people suggested that I set up a GoFundMe to get her some. Others tagged Apple in Tweets, telling them to send me some. A few people even messaged me, offering to buy them for her. I can't say I was prepared for any of that.
I also can't say I was on board with any of that. Even if it was well-intentioned -- and most of it was -- it seemed kind of icky. While anyone who has followed me for a while knows that I like to share a lot of the fun and interesting things my kids say and do, I don't do it in order to exploit them for any kind of gain, for me or for them. I don't share anything without their permission and I don't share anything that is even remotely personal. I'm a writer whose style is to share a lot about his life so my kids are inevitably going to be the subject of my writing, tweeting, and the like, but what is presented is many steps removed from the personal. All that aside, I feel like there are a lot of things people should be spending their money on before they spend it on overpriced electronics for a pretty privileged suburban kid. Especially one who has a job and has her own money and who I'm trying to teach to save up for things she wants to buy.
But she is getting AirPods. Because we got an offer that was hard to refuse.
Last night I got a message from a guy named Worth Wollpert. He's an executive at a video game company. He said he was taken with Anna's map and the banter she and I share. Like a lot of people who have reached out to me in the past couple of days, he says the back-and-forth between Anna and me reminded him of conversations he has with his teenager. It made him happy to see it all.
Wollpert made an offer: if Anna covered half the cost via three charitable donations -- one to a charity of his choice, one to a charity of her choice, and one to a charity of my choice -- he'd buy the AirPods and send them to her (his personal purchase; there's no promotional tie-in with his company or any ulterior motive here). The only catch was that it had to be her money.
I thought about that a bit, trying to make sure it wasn't exploitative or icky in the way some of the other more gratuitous offers were. Then I discussed it with Anna's mom, with my wife, and finally with Anna herself. The three adults involved agreed that it was a fair, non-icky offer and Anna -- who is a pretty selfless and non-materialistic kid as far as teenagers go -- eagerly agreed to make the charitable donations. Wollpert chose the ACLU. Anna is going to donate to an anti-climate change charity, yet to be determined. I'm going to ask her to make a donation to Planned Parenthood of Ohio (Ohio Prime, not Ohio2). I'll post some documentary evidence of it when it's done.
It's been a strange week, but despite all the attention Carlo's Snack Rack and Anna's map received, I can't say it's been an unusual one.
Anna and Carlo are both creative kids who approach life from unusual angles. They're both excellent students and they both stay out of real trouble, but they're not joiners or conformists and they're pretty hard to peg on the traditional spectrum of teenager cliques and cliches. Each of them come up with creations like these surprisingly often, even if they haven't gone viral like this in the past.
A lot of Gen-Z kids do, frankly. Indeed, while a lot of the reaction to Anna and Carlo's viral fame of the past week has been of the amused "oh my God, who THINKS like this?!!" variety, people who have Gen-Z kids or who have interacted with them have responded a bit differently. Their reactions have been more along the lines of "ah, yeah, that's definitely the work of a modern teenager." It's something, as the parent of two modern teenagers, I think about often.
The thought processes and the particular brand of creative flair this generation possesses is not like most of us have seen before. They are imbued with an aggressively off-center sensibility infused with an often shocking amount of absurdity and abstraction married to an equally shocking and profound strain of nihilism and cynicism. It's a nihilism and cynicism with no small amount of humor, but it's a humor one laughs at in self defense. Laughter, at least on my part, that tries but often fails to hold back the guilt and sorrow I feel for why these young women and men possess all that nihilism and cynicism in the first place. A topic for another essay, perhaps. One about the generations which preceded this one. One about all that we have done and all that we have failed to do which has led these kids to the places they now inhabit in body and in mind.
In the meantime, I'm going to spend the winding down of this week's viral silliness thinking about my own kids. In simply loving and appreciating them for what and who they are, what they have become and wondering about who they may one day be. And, while I do it often, I'm going to make sure I continue to tell them how much I love and appreciate them.
I mean, they're going to rule the damn world pretty soon, right? I gotta stay on their good side or else they're gonna make quicker and messier work of me than Anna did with Wyoming and the California coast. They're stone cold assassins, man.