Silk with Zane Kind

A conversation about 
archive internet, niche culture, and citing your sources

Published September 26th, 2023

Zane Kind is a designer, artist, writer, technologist, and co-founder of Silknode, a subcultural creative internet company building a platform for creative research, archive, moodboards, and online marketplace. Originally from Portland and currently based out of San Francisco, Zane joined USURPATOR in NYC over fashion week.

During our conversation, we talk about archive internet, niche culture, creator versus curator economy, gatekeeping, citing your sources, and why everyone is nostalgic for 2016.

Check out the recorded version of our conversation on Spotify, or follow Zane on Instagram or Twitter. You can join the waitlist for Silk , read their white paper, and follow them on Instagram.

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USURPATOR: So, you're the founder of Silknode.

ZANE KIND: Yes, with co-founder with Greg Wolf, who is a fantastic product designer.

U: I remember you gave me a good rundown of what Silk is, but if you could give a basic summary to catch everyone up to speed.

ZK: Yeah, the best way to describe Silk is coming from a position where we love Tumblr, we love moodboard accounts on Instagram; and coming at this from a cultural lens, where has that energy gone and why is it so ran through now? Post-platform, post-Instagram, post-Twitter, post-TikTok, I feel like we're running out of space for curated media online and blogs, period. The original blog is the concept of a web-log where you're saving links, surfing around, and finding these things naturally. You can still do that on Tumblr, but it didn't adapt to post-platform. Obviously, there's to shout out. I think we're looking for something new that's more in that lane that is better adapted. Think of it as the next Tumblr with blogging, multimedia, moodboarding, and a creative marketplace running through it.

U: How long have you been working on this?

ZK: In its current iteration, probably a year. Greg and I met at FWB Fest last summer and we really hit it off. We stayed in contact and a few months later we were talking about Silk, Greg liked the idea and was working on something similar called WarehouseX. We figured we had a ton of overlap and couldn’t do this alone, so we banded together to look at it in its new form. But prior to that, it had just been my personal blog/moodboard account on Instagram. I come from a technical outerwear designer's background, I used to do a bunch of clothes, and that was my reference repository for all the fun stuff I was finding online that was inspiring my work.

The best part of having an archive online is how people get to see that. People get to interact with it, figure out something new, build off of whatever you're sharing. I noticed a ton of designers were starting to follow. So, you build this community gradually via the media, literally just through the power of media that people find attractive.

U: I've been thinking a lot about archiving online. I archive most stuff just on my hard drive, just in folders. Then there’s of course, but it's still not really my favorite. I did really like Tumblr for that, the tagging function especially was very easy. I don't know if it was just intuitive because we were all on it all the time or if it was actually a user-friendly platform. What are your feelings on Tumblr? How did it inspire what you're doing now? In what capacity are you trying to build off of it?

ZK: To be honest, I wasn't a super active Tumblr kid. I fell into a different crowd when I was in middle and high school, it was peripheral to me. It's been in the last couple of years that I'm talking with more people who come from creative backgrounds and they cite it as such an influence for forming their personality and bringing them into certain subcultures. That made me take a second look and make it past the UI a little bit.

I'm writing an essay right now called “Blogging Again”—which hopefully will just make it a little bit clearer why something like Silk is needed—but it analyzes the foundations of blogging in the nineties and then getting to microblogging with Tumblr and David Karp in ‘07. The whole thing with Tumblr, when I talk about post-platform, Tumblr was designed for desktop. It gave you all these HTML and CSS tools, which is beautiful. But then Twitter took over this little microblogging space in a different way because they were really well suited for the mobile phone and they didn't give you any of these options to really go crazy on expressive tools and getting into HTML/CSS styling. Even though it had more constraints, it took away from that blogging spirit. And to this day, I don't think Tumblr has fully adapted to what it means to be mobile first. That’s reflected to me, at least in the interface.

U: Is your plan to be a mobile-first platform?

ZK: Yes, definitely. But ironically, we're actually building desktop first because it's easier and we want people to have a really strong experience using our platform online as a home base. I've noticed when blogging, when archiving, I do a ton of the research on my phone, but then I go back and organize it on my computer.

U: Definitely, yeah. And why is that?

ZK: I don't know, it's cozy. Usually sitting on your computer at home, on the couch, like, right now. That's when you just get to processing a little bit better.

U: I wish that I could be someone who works on their phone. Whenever you go out and you see people who are, like, grinding on their phones at the bar or whatever. I can't. It's just not the headspace for it. So, why do you think that this should be a mobile first platform?

ZK: I think if we get all of these subcultures and distill it, like media fragments into the same space properly, then that's just going to be a great browsing or blogging experience from your phone, from your fingertips. I think right now, our research tools are better suited for desktop and we don't have a space that's necessarily super conducive to being online, connecting, and researching in the moment, while you're maybe out and about, and I love doing that. That's one of my favorite things. Instagram is good at it, Tumblr is fine, but it's not very traversable, at least not in the way that I'd like it to be.

U: Instagram is very good at it, but it feels like it got blown up too quickly by a lot of content that’s proving to be an obstruction for the people who are going to the space for a creative purpose, or who are trying to find like-minded people. I know that you can do it, but it requires more work than I personally am willing to put in.

ZK: Certainly, and finding like-minded people, that's one of the biggest premises of the original internet. Basically, it’s the antithesis of what we have today: we meet you and we see this representation of you on your Instagram and that's how we get the picture. That's not a very good way to find common ground immediately. The premise of Silk is that it's less about what you look like and more about what you're looking at. I think that's one of the best ways to put it. I think we were missing space that moves in that direction.

U: I'm curious how you are planning on approaching it in terms of the social component? Tumblr was basically just who you follow, there wasn't much of an algorithm there, really. And this was also at a time when chronological order was the norm, everything was in chronological order. There was never really an idea of something being other than that. When it became a non-chronological order, that's when algorithms really started to come into place. That’s also when content that you didn't specifically subscribe to started showing up in your timeline. That’s when “the algorithm” became a dirty word.

ZK: So, how do you feel about that? How do you look at that?

U: It purely depends on the platform. I purposefully do not follow very many people on Instagram or Twitter because I don't want to be inundated with shit. I don't want to feel like I'm scrolling to the end of something. So I guess algorithms have influenced my decision to keep a low following count. Of course, once we got Tiktok, we realized that it's not the suggested content we don’t like, it’s how accurate the algorithm is at predicting whether or not we're going to like it. Tiktok has a very good algorithm. It's really good at predicting what you're going to like. And then all of a sudden, “the algorithm” isn't that bad.

ZK: Exactly, there's an attachment there. I think there is a place for suggested content algorithms. I think they can lead you into fun things, but I don't know if having an endless feed of new things to see all at once is going to help you form a critical thought, let alone find a group of people of like-minds. So when I look at something like, which is so adamantly against that, these connections are there because somebody's made them. I think that's more towards what we're trying to capture with Silk. We're trying to keep it feeling slow. It should be slow media.

U: Are you trying to build a place where you follow people that you already know, or a place to discover things?

ZK: Both. There will be no follower counts visible publicly. There'll be no likes. Everything is formed around the collection action and the connection action. You’ll have two prongs: you have your blog, and then you have webs which are multimedia moodboards. Webs are where you publicly keep the stuff that you find, whatever interests you; certain themes, vibes, aesthetics, whatever. Then your blog is you; like, you via media. The web is your archive and library of what you're curating, then the blog is the container for all the things that are more resonant with you, personally.

U: So, the blog is more self-made content? Like, original content?

ZK: It'd be stuff that you pull in from the internet or stuff that you find on Silk. But stuff that represents you.

U: How is the reposting going to work? Is that the structure that you're building?

ZK: Yeah, it's fully around collection/connection mechanisms. Connection is interesting because it almost feels like a form of labor in some kind of way, like you're doing communal work. But the collection sounds a little bit more personally engaging. It's such a slight tweak, obviously, it's two letters, but it just gives you a little bit more satisfaction that it’s for you. If you're taking media from a separate place and bringing it back to yours, that's a connective act and it will show up wherever that media originally was—your connection, your bridge.

U: So do you mostly see this as an archiving tool?

ZK: I do. I see it as a creative research tool. I think archive is the by-product. I think the act of finding these things you're liking, managing them, putting them in public for other people to see, inevitably leads to some kind of archival act and archive internet.

U: How do you imagine these things are going to be categorized or tagged? Like, Pinterest has boards. How are you going to categorize it?

ZK: Say, if you make a web, it'll be a repository with a title and a caption or bio for that. And you can follow a web individually, as well as blogs if you want to keep that in your feed. We're looking at something chronological, I think that's how you keep it slow. We're also not looking at ads, which I think also really helps keep it slow.

U: How are you planning on keeping it ad free? What's the model that you guys are planning?

ZK: At scale—say everything goes to plan and it's beautiful— from the creative marketplace, by taking cuts from the products that sell, whether that be something resold, products from an artist, like a painting or a sculpture or a designer, clothes, hardware. If you transact on our marketplace, we take cuts. Hopefully, at a certain point, that's enough to float. As we're starting off and bootstrapping—at least until we get to V1, which should be sometime in Q1—it looks like we're going to have to charge a subscription-gate at first. At a certain block number you’ll get to the point where you’ll have to pay for now, but hopefully not forever. We don't want to have subscriptions forever.

U: I mean, I talk to a lot of people who are founders, and that's always a question that I ask them: what kind of pricing model is your goal? Obviously this is a sample bias, but most people are okay with paying for a good product, I think. Everyone who I speak to who's involved in this space, it seems like people enjoy free tools less and less.

ZK: Yeah, I agree with that. I think that there is a big push towards having to pay for the internet, but I guess that's okay. It assures quality. But I hope that there's a way that we can circumvent that, that we just haven't tried out yet. I think the marketplace might be that way.

U: Tell me a little bit about the marketplace— this is going to be an archiving creative research tool, but then people will be able to sell things on the platform? What do you envision that they will be selling? Anything?

ZK: No, hopefully not just anything. It's still curated; it should never be an eBay. We're still looking at curated resale. If you're an artist or a designer, let's say you're a clothing designer, you have a brand or an office or whatever. The best part about curating media around something that you're interested in is that people of like-mind flock to that. If you have that taste overlap or if you make a product that fits into that same lane, you have an audience already there. So, alongside all of these blocks— links, pictures, video, SoundCloud, PDF, Spotify, whatever, any media type—we're hoping that by traversing these webs of media and finding things that fit into these pockets, you'll just naturally gravitate towards products that fit into what you're looking for, or at least what someone else is looking for that might interest you.

I think now with Google, DoubleClick, AdSense, after the dot-com boom, we need to have ads to subsist online. We haven't tried anything since because maybe you won't make as much money, but, like, it'll definitely make people feel better to use what they’re stewarding.

U: Yeah, I'm trying to think of popular examples of social media websites that have introduced a paid tier with no ads anymore and how successful it’s been. I don't think that Instagram would ever do that.

ZK: I don't think so either. Twitter is there. Tumblr is terrible right now. You'll be scrolling and you;ll see like, ten ads; it's losing money.

U: Are you still on it?

ZK: Actually, I'm more into it than ever right now. I love Tumblr, and there's so many cool people on there. The cool people that I'm following there, who I enjoy seeing pop up, they dress well, they're posting their life. There is great media floating around there as well, but I'm more into it for the people more than some of the stuff that I bump into.

U: Are you there to post or are you there to browse?

ZK: I do post, I have a little blog on there, but it's just pictures that I wouldn't post on Instagram. I'm not very active, it's mostly for browsing. Are you on Tumblr?

U: I am on Tumblr. I'm definitely not posting, I haven't posted in years. There are a few people from back in the day whose content or blogs had such a big impression on my brain that I constantly go back and look at it.

ZK: That's how we learn, for real.

U: And such great reference points from Tumblr, really cool people. That's where I learned about all the music that I was listening to, it's definitely where I got my art style when I was a kid. Again, it was definitely not original.

ZK: Yeah, nothing is, exactly, I was just talking to somebody out here this week. It's fashion week, and they had this retail pop up; my friend Benjamin Greco who makes amazing leather bags, but also really wonderful clothes as well. The buyer had him selling out their little pop up and I was over there checking on Benjamin's stuff. We're just talking super openly about where our clothes come from. In fashion, there's such a gatekeeper culture around like, “Oh, there's this brand. I'm not going to tell you what it is.” Inevitably, those people have found it from somebody at a different point as well. I hate how people don't hold the door open behind them. I think that should apply to almost everything online, not just fashion, but the general spirit of “I like this. It's cool. It's helped me grow. And if this can help somebody else, I'm gonna put it out there, leave a trail.”

U: Do you think that people are embarrassed of exposing their reference points or are they trying to create an illusion of total originality?

ZK: I would guess.. I mean, probably. I’m sure that’s the intention of the gatekeepers.

U: I feel like I do that to a certain extent, but that's because I’m embarrassed.

The thing that you said earlier, how nothing's original. I remember realizing this when I was around 12 or 13. I mean, I'm a Libra.

ZK: Me too.

U: You are? That's amazing. I mentioned that I'm a Libra because it's kind of a copycat sign. Libras are really good at making people feel comfortable and mirroring people.

ZK: I feel that.

U: That's what makes you good at socializing. It's what makes people feel at ease when you're around them. I think that always comes with a little bit of copying people. And I've always felt very unoriginal. I remember when I was young and being comforted by the idea that nothing's original, but the illusion of originality is just finding cool reference points from a wide range of places. Pairing things that are otherwise not connected and bringing all of those different elements together.

ZK: Totally. Everybody does. It's the most human thing you do. I sound terrible for pulling out the Steve Jobs quote right now, but he has one and it's the best: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it—they just saw something. And it seemed obvious to them after a while, and that's because they're able to connect the experiences they've had and synthesize new things.” If Steve Jobs is saying that; if somebody like him is going to admit that, that's what being human is about. It's hybridization, appropriation—which has a negative connotation, but like, just combining new things and putting it in a new context.

U: I think it’s true. What we see as original is probably just two or three different ideas that were very distinct from each other, but you were able to synthesize it into one thing. Maybe one person who sees that knows one of the references but doesn't know the other one.

ZK: But, I do agree, sometimes you don’t want to expose your source, sometimes you just want it to come across as you. When we talk about archive internet, curated internet, sharing references, and not gatekeeping, I think that's more important now than ever. A big reason why I want Silk to exist so badly and so soon, we just need to share more. We need more people to put these things out there.

U: I feel like that's a contentious statement, because there is this pervasive idea that we're all sharing too much. Do you think that we're just sharing too much of the wrong content, or that we aren't sharing enough point blank?

ZK: I think we aren't sharing enough point blank. There's so much media out there and only so much of it actually makes us happy, so we keep it for ourselves more often than we should.

U: Very interesting, because now there's a platform for pretty much everything except for what you are talking about. I guess is a good example of this, as we were just talking about. Rateyourmusic for cataloging and curating music. Letterboxd for movies. There exists different hubs for different types of media so people can curate their favorites or log their consumption.

ZK: I'm going into my senior year at Stanford and my senior thesis is about the personalization of media, or the individualization of media. We are seeing more and more things that only we and other people online are seeing, but are not seen in local spaces.

So, if I see something and I love it, I assume it went viral for everybody, but if I ask my friend about it, they might have no idea, right? In the 60s or 50s, there were three TV channels. Everybody was tuning into television at the same time, then millions and millions of people went to school to talk about the next day. Everybody was tuned into mass culture. Even in the early internet, there were places online before content algorithms came around where oftentimes there would be editorial picks, you would see that on the homepage. You know, “here's what's cool on YouTube today and here's what we picked out, here's what's cool on Vimeo.” And everybody has the opportunity to see the same thing. I think it's so unifying. I think that needs to come back a bit more, so we will have an editorial page on Silk.

U: So do you want people to be exposed to more of the same content?

ZK: I am. I know it sounds counterintuitive because we're so obsessed with individuality right now and being different, but I think it would be one of the best things that happens online in a long time.

U: That's interesting because one of my predictions has been an inevitable reversion or retreat into the niche. The reason why people don't like Instagram is because they're trying too hard to cater to everyone, and that's why it doesn't work. 

ZK: I sometimes feel that way. I also sometimes think people get so esoteric that they try to be so individual that it scares people away.

U: That is true. You're right in what you say, that even what used to be fringe back in the day, like being punk, was very unified as a visible subculture. Because all of the media, all of the things that we were consuming were so unified, there were fewer places to stem out from. The “niches” weren’t that hidden.

Now, it's kind of hard to figure out how big or small niches are; when I think about Tumblr, like, what was big on Tumblr? Lana Del Rey, Marina, the 1975… and those felt kind of huge to me. Those felt very mainstream. But girls in high school who were listening to the 1975 thought of it as very alternative.

ZK: That's the kind of alt we need. Eventually, if it sticks around long enough and finds a life after the niche, then that's organic. That happened naturally, and it wasn't pressured into becoming something that existed in everybody's brain. That happened slowly, from an origin. I think that's why those fanbases are so strong today. You sometimes see people popping up now and it's like, where did that come from? So there's an artificial feeling.

When you talk about niches, remembering things, and certain people being attracted to subgroups of history, our culture right now is all about hybridization and nostalgia; taking things from the past, whether that be in 2016, whether that be the 30s and 40s, like original Hollywood cinema. There's so much media. We have such a modern treasure trove of all these things to dig into. And since the internet has made all these artifacts so accessible, all these people are now gravitating naturally and individualizing naturally into certain groups that respect these things. Like you were saying earlier, with Instagram and Tumblr, tagging only goes so far on Instagram, it's kind of a force because you're not being exposed to what people are into. Why we need to be sharing things is exactly that. There needs to be more places out there with pockets of information that are harking back to the things that people love. Then, that's how we get new things; we get out of the slump of mass remembering culture by remembering better.

U: Okay, that's a very interesting point, it's very Marc Fisher-esque.

ZK: Hauntology, or Capitalist Realism?

U: Hauntology, for sure. As our archive is getting longer, do you think that we're more inclined to get lost in it, or that it’s going to prevent us from building new things?

ZK: No, I genuinely think if we continue to build infrastructure for remembering the things that matter to us, we learn more about ourselves and we learn more about what we're interested in doing in the future. Knowledge is power—building out your reference library and carving out who you are and what you like is one of the most beautiful things you can do with your time on earth. I think building as much infrastructure around that basic play as possible is net positive.

U: Do you guys have any ideas for building infrastructure that suggests to your users to build out original content, to make this a generative platform instead of one that's just backward looking or archival?

ZK: Right now, no. We act as a curated layer on top of what already exists; there's so many great outlets for publishing yourself, and things that they make as it stands, and we're not trying to place any of them. TikTok and Instagram should still exist, you should still have a website, you should have an outlet for the things you're making and then somebody can find that and put it on Silk. But, in terms of it being generative itself, no, I think it's more insulating, in a way.

U: I'm thinking about—going back to Tumblr again—in my mind, there were two pools of Tumblr posters: the purely reblogging accounts, and then the original content accounts. The latter was people blogging in the truest sense; writing out posts, posting their own photos, putting out their own art. Through that content, that's what built the other cultures and aesthetics that were existing on the platform. I don't think that one is necessarily better than the other, but I guess back then I had a bias towards the people who were using those platforms as their own personal website or blog for their own shit.

ZK: Yeah exactly, you can't ask everybody to do that. Some people will gravitate to it more than others. If you're going to be out here blogging, that's better than just lurking and doing nothing. I think we can build a better way to make that constructive, and not just a personal act. Being somebody out here who is blogging and archiving, that is a constructive act. It reflects a whole other pocket of identity, or even a smaller fragment of a larger subculture. I think they're both instrumental. People talk a lot about the creator economy and yes, you need these people who are going to make the content, or put the media together. But the curator economy underpins these people who are actually doing that work and putting these things in new places; that’s what makes it move.

U: Going back to the individualization that you mentioned earlier; I'm thinking about what we were saying about niche and how people want the things that they like to be very niche. Like, “Oh, you probably wouldn't know about it. You wouldn't understand it.”

ZK: Yeah, “I was there like, five years ago.”

U: How long do you think people have been doing this? Is this a new thing?

ZK: Oh, I couldn't tell you. I first became familiar with this culture… well, I grew up near Portland and there's a huge hipster culture there. I don't know if that will go away or what, but I don't mind it. I've definitely been in that mind space myself. That's super natural to be protective over this stuff.

U: Why is that, though?

ZK: It gets back to this core part of how what you are into says so much more about yourself than anything you can wear, even anything that you can sometimes say. Intrinsically, we just know that. And giving that stuff away is almost like giving yourself away, to a certain point. So it can be kind of challenging, but, I hope that's something that we are able to grow out of collectively.  I don't know how long there have been crazy gatekeepers in this exact mindset, but the internet is so young; nostalgia culture is so young. I think it has a lot of maturity that's still ahead of it, especially as we change our models of how we exist online.

U: I would be willing to bet that nostalgia is an inherent function of ourselves. We remember the past more fondly, kind of just for survival. That's a philosophical or psychological idea—you only really remember the nice things, so then very easily, you slip into it the mindset that “it used to be better.”

ZK: Yeah, I know people who have been yearning for 2016 since 2017.

U: Okay… what’s the deal with 2016? I remember 2016 as being, like, a bad time aesthetically. But that's probably just because I was a 20 year old woman and the things going on for us back then were not great.

ZK: No, absolutely. It was a dark time in a lot of ways. Culturally, there was so much going on. What I think I hear the most is from people who are really into SoundCloud rap, like the 2016 XXL freshman class with Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi—

U: Is that what you were doing in 2016?

ZK: I was definitely so deep into SoundCloud rap at the time. I think that was also around the same time that I started getting into thrifting and spending money on clothes that not everybody else was wearing. During lunch and after school with friends, I would go to thrift. I would go to Goodwill, put on some old-ass Grandpa's sweater type of thing, and feel like the flyest mother fucker in there. I look back and I'm like, what I was thinking? God awful. But, at the time, it was a youthful discovery where I think there was a fun peaking of what was to happen in the future of being individualized and experimenting a little bit more.

U: Especially coming from a male perspective, that makes more sense. I grew up in eastern Canada, it definitely wasn't a hotbed of culture. It was leftovers, I felt like we were getting everything a couple of years late. My friends and I, we started listening to SoundCloud rappers around 2018. But in 2016 it was firmly Views from Drake, Rihanna’s ANTI. That's definitely what occupies my 2016 mind. Weirdly, in my mind and in my own personal history, the times that I felt the most unique, like I was trailblazing my own taste and media consumption, was when I was even younger, had no friends, and was on the computer literally all the time.

ZK: The internet really came to a point, somewhere in there was a turning point, somehow. I don't exactly know, but I think we're onto something to do with where your own online culture stems from. Figuring out who I am, what I'm into, what I'm listening to, and seeing other people starting to do it at the same time. It was a shift. I think around this time, I remember meme pages started cropping up a ton in 2015, 2016. That was new, too. There were new, novel ways of being online that a lot of people who are still online still remember, and it's nostalgic in that way.

U: There are definitely two parts of this: subcultures have exploded, not necessarily in size, but in numbers. There are so many different niches to stem off to that are now much more accessible. Then there's also this part of being online where we're so much more assimilated or unified. I'm thinking about how on TikTok, there was this really popular comment that would be left on every video that was like, “Damn, we're all living the same life for real.”

ZK: Yeah, like we all had the same childhood. I think that is the start of people getting closer to understanding that even though we have been so pressured into being atomized individuals and seeing its effects on our society, I think we're getting back to a point where we're realizing that we’re all in the same system. Even if we're interested in different things, we're all still under the same umbrella. I'm hoping that there's more solace taken around that, rather than despair.

U: What kinds of reference points do you have? What are your curatorial archiving practices like?

ZK: Coming from a designer's background, it was super fashion intensive—you could call it techwear, you could call it Gorp-core, you could call it functional outerwear.

U: Because you're from Portland?

ZK: Yes, I'm from Portland. I grew up playing sports. I was drifting around this time, and being in Portland actually changed my life, because Nike's there, and Nike has tons and tons of sample product, it just floods into the Goodwill outside of Portland. So, I would grow up going into the bins, digging through and finding some shoe I'd never seen. Maybe it was defective, but it felt interesting and new; it felt special. I think that was maybe the beginning of my curatorial practice because I started digging into Nike ACG this way, I started digging into all these different Nike sub-product lines and finding huge communities of Nike collectors and appreciators online. I started using ACG, which is all-conditions gear, using their outerwear line to inform my work. So that was my birth into understanding the importance of curation.

I had this page called ACG Archive where I would document all this stuff that I would find online— put it on a white background, just a wall of product photography on this account. People, designers especially, love archive accounts because they gravitate towards finding something new. Not just them, but appreciators, collectors, and communities. That was the eye opening moment for me.

Same thing with Silk; I transitioned out of my ACG period and into more experimental functional outerwear stuff. A lot of it was Japanese, like, Ura-Harajuku, are you familiar?

U: I don't think so.

ZK: It's a neighborhood in Tokyo and there's a ton of really cool streetwear; original, fun, technical clothing that was coming out of this group.

U: Okay, right, I have a bunch of Fruits magazines up on the bookshelf over there.

ZK: Yeah, you’re guaranteed to find a ton of this in Fruits. It was one of the strongest, youngest subcultures that really popped up, in Shibuya. They had a ton of stuff that was attractive to me, I would collect and curate based on that, and share it with people. That was huge for me. I mean, that's where Silk started. Silknode the account was just my repository for that, digging through, even beyond clothes now, but also art, architecture, songs or movies. Expanding the research practice into these other realms has been really fun for me recently, too.

U: I don't know, I think that the reason why we're so nostalgic around the media that we were consuming when we were teenagers is because there was such an unabashedly adolescent exuberance or excitement about everything. You really did feel like you were the only person who knew about this and you had to be the one to put it on the map.

ZK: And it's been disheartening to see that other people were doing the same thing! But I think that's something that we have to reckon with. But, it's great to come out of our bedrooms together like that and realize that even if we were doing this apart, we're all doing it together.

U: When you're a kid, you feel like you invented everything, right?

ZK: We're so much more alike than we seem. That's really a good thing.

U: I was definitely falling prey to the obscurity Olympics when I was a teenager. I wanted to be so weird. I wanted to listen to music that you couldn't even find online. Like, beyond alternative, I wanted to be buying shit on Discogs that had never been uploaded to the internet before. And now, I could definitely disguise that as an archival process to preserve certain kinds of media so it didn’t get lost. But at the time, it was purely because I wanted to like shit that was so obscure and so niche that I couldn't even look on the internet because that meant it had already been exposed to people. I needed like, 60s West African highlife that had never been uploaded on Soulseek before. Because I was like that for so long, I've definitely swung the other way, and now I love listening to the 1975 and Lana Del Rey.

ZK: Straight up, I've been really into Drake recently.

U: Are you coming to the Sixposium? We're having it here in October.

ZK: I'll be gone, but let me look into it and maybe I'll have to submit. I used to work for Drake.

U: What did you do for him?

ZK: When I was getting into it, I ran ACG Archive and a ton of designers were flocking to the page and I would take note of who these people were, DM and be like, “Hey, I'm trying to become a designer. Let me know if you need help.”

U: So you're marketing yourself from your archives?

ZK: Yes, curation is marketing! That's another foundational insight that's informing Silk. But anyways, I hit up a designer, I hit up so many, but this one gave me a ton of love back. He asked me if I knew how to use Adobe Illustrator, if I knew how to reference research? I was like “No, what is that?” Even though, clearly, I did. I just didn't know it was called reference research.  He was like, “It’s a goner, sorry. Maybe when you're in L.A., we can work together or get coffee.” I was in freshman year college, just up the state and in the bay, I was like, “I'll fly down to California and meet you right now because, like, I would love to get coffee.” Then we jumped on a call and I was telling him more about what I was into, and he was kind of feeling me out. Then I started working on these really cool projects for Drake's Nike line NOCTA. And then when COVID hit, I had the really wonderful opportunity to move to Los Angeles and intern at Drake's creative agency, Dream Crew for four months, going into the office every day and, you know, obviously working a shit ton.

U: Very cool. I mean, you can market yourself from your curatorial practices. I guess it's kind of like a portfolio.

So, what's the crux of your thesis? Are you writing it right now?

ZK: Doing all the research.

U: Okay, do you know what your argument or position is?

ZK: A lot of it has to do with just telling a new story. It's less of a proposal of where things are going, than it is a refined history looking at certain events that led to where we are now, in terms of individualization online. To me, it goes back to a few places; one being the counterculture. Another one being the advent of parasocial advertising, when they would put a familiar face on a brand— Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, Orville Redenbacher—these people who you would have a relationship with through the brand. That turned into celebrity culture and celebrity product endorsements. That, combined with targeted advertising,  the advent of the internet and Google, and then reality TV too, all these things came together to create the individual and the aspiration towards being a celebrity or an influencer. And then how that inevitably has become super individualized, ingrained into our habits of using socials, TikTok, the “For You Page.”

U: For sure, do you think that everyone's trying to become an influencer now, within the archive internet?

ZK: No, it's a loud minority of these people who are publicly aspiring to that. But I think there are a good amount of people even outside of that, who don't necessarily want to aspire to the highest of heights, but who simply just want to make a living off of doing this kind of thing.

U: Yeah, I don't even know if you can be a public-facing or public-posting individual without trying to show how cool you are or show how good your taste is, which I'm not entirely convinced that that's a bad thing. I think a lot about our ideas of ourselves, the picture of ourselves that we're trying to curate and express to others. I think that we get innately uncomfortable at the prospect that we can't control how other people see us. And that's what we're trying to do.

But maybe I'm just projecting, because if I'm being honest with myself, that's what I'm trying to do when I post. I want other people to think I'm cool and I want other people to think that I have great taste.

ZK: Yeah, not only do you want to remember things, but you want to be remembered. You want to leave a mark. It's really interesting because that is so at odds with this need to be a part of an in-group, and have acceptance. I think the internet has introduced a really weird clash. For the first time ever, you want to stand out, be remembered, and leave a mark; but this is sometimes at odds with the desire to meet somebody who understands me.

U: So, Silk it's going to be available Q1?

ZK: Oh yeah, we'll have a private beta by the end of the year, friends and family. And then we'll be doing refinement, taking feedback, and then hopefully, Q1 we have something to give to people.

U: Well, you're doing a great job.

ZK: Cheers. Thank you for having me on.

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

Run by @hard_boiledbabe