Emma Gannon – emmagannon.co.uk
“Emma, I really adore you. I would come to work for any media empire that you run and feel extremely blessed that you exist,” said Lena Dunham. Yes, the Lena Dunham. You couldn’t see Emma Gannon’s reaction – the conversation took place on Gannon’s Ctrl, Alt, Delete podcast – but her quiet “thank you” said it all.
Theirs is a quintessential story of modern friendship. In 2011, Gannon had blogged about Girls, Dunham’s hit TV series for HBO. By the following morning, Dunham had started following her on Twitter. The pair became “DM friends” (direct message, to the uninitiated) and finally met in person three years later.
Gannon may not be as well-known as Dunham (few of us are). To the unfamiliar reader, then… who is Emma Gannon? “Oh my God,” she sniggers. “How do I answer that? I’m a multi-hyphenate creative woman who refuses to be pigeonholed,” she says rather succinctly. The former social media editor of Glamour magazine is now a writer, blogger, podcaster and public speaker. Her “millennial memoir” Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online was published in July 2016. Her podcast has reached more than 1m downloads. She has a second book in the pipeline. Oh, and she’s 28.
Gannon’s personal branding is clever. A millennial to the core, she was born in 1989, the same year as the invention of the world wide web. Whether she is writing, blogging or broadcasting, all routes come back to her millennial genus, which is why her podcast stands out. Gannon chose podcasting, in part, because of its contrast to the heavily edited or throwaway nature of many social mediums.
“This is not an argument that people can have in 140 characters. This is a 40-minute conversation. It comes off the back of the idea that we are talking out of texts, WhatsApp, tweets and emails, and I felt like things can get misconstrued,” Gannon says of her podcast, in which each episode features a conversation – normally with a woman – about work, social media and, often, technology. Guests have included the Labour MP Jess Phillips, the feminist Laura Bates and the author Elizabeth Gilbert.
‘I think millennials can
bridge the gap. We know
what it’s like not to have
technology, to switch off’
“People think their worth is wrapped up in their online persona,” Gannon continues. “I really believe in creativity and needing time away from your phone to access magical parts in your brain. I came up with the idea for my [forthcoming] book on a long-haul flight where I wasn’t on my phone for 12 hours.”
Not that she is advocating a return to an Enid Blyton-like past. “There’s no point saying ‘go and read a book under a tree’ – that narrative isn’t helpful because it’s not the world teenagers live in. Without a phone they’re more likely to get bullied, because they’re not involved. I think millennials can bridge the gap. We know what it’s like to not have technology, to switch off. But we also know what it’s like to be validated by ‘likes’,” she says.
Nor does Gannon place blame on today’s teenagers. “I’m hoping to do some work interviewing young kids because a lot of them don’t like it and say, ‘I ask my mum to take my phone away because I can’t do my homework’,” she explains.
“I want to talk about how to stop the root causes of this stuff. It’s hard to comment on because we’re in the thick of it, there’s no data, no concrete evidence. Everyone’s got an opinion, but no one knows what to do, which is why I do the podcast, so we can talk about it. I don’t have the answer.” Yet. Lena Dunham wouldn’t bet against her.
Ctrl, Alt Delete
5 things Gannon would do if the internet died
Buy an old typewriter and sit in the park
Look through my dusty family photo albums
Write a long letter to an old friend
Try and cook something really ambitious
Do some (bad) painting
Dolly Alderton – dollyalderton.com
Dolly Alderton is convinced that she’s a 55-year-old man. She loves drinking in Camden. She’s a fan of the novelist Martin Amis. She has a big, wonderful laugh, from the gut. Trouble is, she’s a rather beautiful 28-year-old woman… called Dolly. “Some people excel at being teenagers. I was terrible at it. I haven’t been that good at my 20s. So in my heart, I’m meant to be a 55-year-old man in a pub, talking about my favourite Rod Stewart album. It’s what my brain was born for!” she roars.
Alderton has more opportunity to exercise her inner middle-aged man now that she co-hosts The High Low, a weekly pop culture and news podcast, with Pandora Sykes. It marks the first time in years that Alderton’s journalism hasn’t been preceded by her photograph: she spent two years as The Sunday Times’ Style dating columnist, revealing intimate details of her love life.
“I never went into journalism to have my picture taken. When I was doing my column, a lot of the feedback was about how I looked in the picture. I felt like I was under a gaze I’d never chosen,” she explains. “I love how I’m not judged on my aesthetics in a podcast. I feel much more comfortable when it’s my brain and my heart and my morals doing the talking. That’s why women do so well in it; we’re not being judged like that.”
The podcast takes its name from an expression coined by the former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown that all culture is best consumed in high- and low-brow quantities.
Both Alderton and Sykes are voracious consumers of books and use the show to promote reading (books are often the high culture; National Sandwich Week, for example, the low). “I used to be able to lose myself in a book. Now, I can’t concentrate,” says Alderton. “That’s what we’re trying to get across on the podcast, because I think the art of reading is being lost. We consume so much temporary content, we do so much scrolling, we feel like we’re being fed, but we’re not. Me reading ‘you were the Monica in your group of Friends’ is a false sense of nourishment. So, put your phone out of your room, carry a book with you, reach for a book, not a phone.”
If the podcast were your introduction to Alderton, there would be little to suggest she had been a “sex expert”, as she was recently billed. “I did a master’s in journalism!” she cries. “How did that happen?”
But she knows the answer. “I’ve always been obsessed with boys. I’ve got it written all over me that I went to an all-girls school. In Jilly Cooper’s Desert Island Discs [Alderton is obsessed by the BBC Radio 4 show], she says the male gardener would come into the grounds of her school – he’d be 80 – and they’d all obsess about him!” Alderton says. “And I’m fascinated by relationships. At a dinner party, I’m never going to be someone who grills people over their politics. The layer that really fascinates me is, what was your relationship with your mum and dad like? When did you lose your virginity? Do you want children? Maybe that’s why I accidentally ended up being this strange, dating guru…”
‘We consume so much
temporary content, we do
so much scrolling that we
feel like we’re being fed,
but we’re not’
And what of Alderton herself? And that desert island? To take the place of the radio show’s presenter, Kirsty Young, would be sacrilege, so instead of granting just one luxury item, what 10 things would the castaway Alderton take?
She reels off the items: “A big bed with a mosquito net, like Jarvis Cocker chose, because everything’s easier when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. A bottle of Tabasco because I put it on everything. Emergency pack of Camel Blues. A chilled bottle of champagne . Some nuts, like Jilly Cooper, to befriend the animals. Cashmere jumper. Mascara, in case a handsome pirate came to shore…”
She goes well beyond 10. No bother. In the words of Kirsty Young: “Dolly Alderton, it’s yours.”
By Ana Santi