My dearest agents of decay:

Happy New Year! It’s FEBRUARY and I’m finally getting around to writing the first newsletter of the year which does not bode well, you guys. January felt like it lasted one hundred days and half of them I spent making TikTok videos about niche goth topics, so feel free to check those out next time you have a couple of hours on your hands.

Speaking of that CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY APP, I joined it to try to relate to the teenagers in my house. As you may know, they only communicate via shared memes and TikTok videos. These are mostly bunnies eating cute things and cows getting their hair blow-dried, but my daughter also got me turned on to The Reddit Lamp Story, and I am obsessed.

Posts about The Reddit Lamp Story were recently trending, and it was absolutely fascinating to see this internet lore unfold and morph in real time. Not to get too professorial about it, but this is the modern iteration of folklore, and I think it can tell us some really fascinating things about our culture and our fears.

The Lamp Story was posted to the Glitch in the Matrix Subreddit over 12 years ago. I have no idea how it popped up on TikTok in 2023, but I can see the appeal. Since I know some of you are grumpy and lazy and do not want to be assigned homework (like me), I reposted it in its entirety below.

A Parallel Life / Awoken By A Lamp

throw away account cause this is really personal.

My last semester at a certain college I was assulted by a football player for walking where he was trying to drive (note he was 325lbs I was 120lbs), while unconscious on the ground I lived a different life.

I met a wonderful young lady, she made my heart skip and my face red, I pursued her for months and dispatched a few jerk boyfriends before I finally won her over, after two years we got married and almost immediately she bore me a daughter.

I had a great job and my wife didn’t have to work outside of the house, when my daughter was two she [my wife] bore me a son. My son was the joy of my life, I would walk into his room every morning before I left for work and doted on him and my daughter.

One day while sitting on the couch I noticed that the perspective of the lamp was odd, like inverted. It was still in 3D but… just.. wrong. (It was a square lamp base, red with gold trim on 4 legs and a white square shade). I was transfixed, I couldn’t look away from it. I stayed up all night staring at it, the next morning I didn’t go to work, something was just not right about that lamp.

I stopped eating, I left the couch only to use the bathroom at first, soon I stopped that too as I wasn’t eating or drinking. I stared at the fucking lamp for 3 days before my wife got really worried, she had someone come and try to talk to me, by this time my cognizance was breaking up and my wife was freaking out. She took the kids to her mother’s house just before I had my epiphany…. the lamp is not real…. the house is not real, my wife, my kids… none of that is real… the last 10 years of my life are not fucking real!

The lamp started to grow wider and deeper, it was still inverted dimensions, it took up my entire perspective and all I could see was red, I heard voices, screams, all kinds of weird noises and I became aware of pain…. a fucking shit ton of pain… the first words I said were “I’m missing teeth” and opened my eyes. I was laying on my back on the sidewalk surrounded by people that I didn’t know, lots were freaking out, I was completely confused.

At some point a cop scooped me up, dragged/walked me across the sidewalk and grass and threw me face down in the back of a cop car, I was still confused.

I was taken to the hospital by the cop (seems he didn’t want to wait for the ambulance to arrive) and give CT scans and shit..

I went through about 3 years of horrid depression, I was grieving the loss of my wife and children and dealing with the knowledge that they never existed, I was scared that I was going insane as I would cry myself to sleep hoping I would see her in my dreams. I never have, but sometimes I see my son, usually just a glimpse out of my peripheral vision, he is perpetually 5 years old and I can never hear what he says.

EDIT (24 hours after post): never though anyone would read this, I changed a line so that it no longer seems that my 2 year old daughter bore a child.

I have never seen Inception or the Star Trek episode so many have mentioned (but I will eventually)

I will not do an AMA

I’ve had many PM’s describing similar experiences and 3 posters stating such experiences are impossible, I’d say more research needs to be done on brain functions. Pre-med students, don’t assume you know everything.

A few have asked if they can write a book/screen play/stage play/rage comic etcetera, please consider this tale open source and have fun with it


WOOOOOOF! This story is an absolute gut punch. It worked a slow burn on my subconscious for several days, leaving me feeling drained and hollow. It’s genius. And no, I don’t believe for a second that it’s real. It’s way too clean and it communicates such a clear truth, it has all the hallmarks of a folktale, like an urban legend. It’s giving nineties chain email vibes.

This is, in academic parlance, folklore. Folklore is informally transmitted traditional culture. The Lamp Story is informal because it’s not issued by traditional media or a publisher, and it’s spread by word of mouth (comments and shares). It’s traditional in the sense that it is part of a long line of communicating ideas and values in culture – storytelling. It’s a part of culture because humans are interacting with it.

Now, this story was created by a specific (anonymous) author, but it’s been re-interpreted and re-mixed and re-told online thousands of times online. In the old days, these stories would have been shared by people or by singers or performers. Today, we use the Internet to pass these stories around. In many ways, the Internet – especially this subreddit – is our digital campfire. This is what makes it folklore!

So like, why is a Reddit post from 12 years ago trending all the sudden? I wasted many hours watching these videos (ANYTHING FOR MY READERS), and I have some ideas. One thing that is clear is that this is just a fun story to tell and to hear. I have now told it to everyone I know as well. Obviously! This is a hallmark of folktales and urban legends. They spread because people like them.

The TikToks have some common elements. A lot of creators used this content to show off their storytelling skills – adding details and embellishments and creating suspense. Creators also used it like a meme, reflecting how they felt about their lives. If everything was going well, the lamp scared them. If it sucked, they were staring hard at that lamp trying to get it to wake them up. Others played with edits and warping effects to show us the distorting effects of the story. So many described it as their worst nightmare. One creator altered the story to be a writer finishing his novel after five years of hard work, only to see the lamp warp – MY ACTUAL NIGHTMARE.

These stories spread because they are compelling in another way – they touch a nerve. Good urban legends evoke a feeling or reveal a truth that is timely but also maybe subconscious. To me, the biggest takeaway of the Reddit Lamp Story is that reality is subjective. Reading this story, or hearing it, is looking into the abyss. That’s why it stays with you, and nags at you. As for why it’s popular now, or why people are drawn to it, I think we are in an era where we are disconnected and confused about our reality.

Urban legends are particularly important and compelling to teenagers, and teenagers and young people are the powerhouse of TikTok. They lead increasingly, frighteningly digital lives. The audio played with these memes is “You don’t know me, but I know you” – it’s as if there really are two of you now. An online you and a real you. You don’t know exactly who you’re getting online – an avatar or a real person. There’s a weird, schizophrenic disconnect to living such a virtual life. While millennials and GenX may be riffing on this story, it’s young people who are absorbing and sharing it. Our generation made this technology, but our children are experiencing it.

There are some themes that I see that are less deep – the failed American dream for millennials, the lure of red pill ideology online. I think the looming onslaught of AI factors heavily into these fears about not being able to see reality as well. Culture seems to have moved beyond the “simulation” scenario and into something that feels almost more nihilist – that someday WE will be the robots. We’ll be the disconnected heads in jars from the Simpsons – a dream actively endorsed by people like Elon Musk. In other words, some real dystopian shit. 

I wonder if the OP had any idea what a sensation this story would cause, or that people like me would be barfing hundreds of words about it into a newsletter. At the end of the day, after all, this is what art is for.

Now open that app and stare into the abyss! You’re a philosopher now!