Notebooks Research

Liminality and Polarisation

Scribbles in my Research notebook, Monday 5th April 2021: observations and writing I have found interesting in the last week.


Anecdotally, my early and initial reaction to Jude Ellison S. Doyle’s newsletter about Substack, and Hamish McKenzie’s prompt sub-tweet response seems to have proved correct. Since then, a substantial amount of the people whose newsletters I look forward to receiving each week (or thereabouts) have left the platform or are debating how to do so, with most quoting the same couple of articles highlighting the mess Substack have got themselves into. My initial thread captures the key points: Substack pitching itself as a platform and a technology opportunity whilst also seeking to offer some form of editorial stance (despite, amusingly, repeatedly saying it wasn’t doing that at all, clearly assuming because they see something as a business opportunity it can’t have any shades of editorial decision-making whatsoever), and misjudging public opinion in terms of both ethics generally and also what people have learnt from allowing Facebook to become too big. I had previously been interested in some of the blog posts shared about Substack’s aims and initiatives, but they have started to grate a little, trying to justify their position whilst also acting as if they don’t need to care at all because they are the saviour of western world and can’t do any wrong (seriously, it’s hard not to see a hero complex in some of their most recent blog posts). I have since deleted my Substack account, but I was going to do that anyway. I do, however, feel sad that something I thought was good initially has allowed greed and poor decision-making to taint what might have been a sustainable and solid publication model. And, frustratingly, given they had plenty of time to think through their approaches and justify them before the inevitable criticism was fairly made, they seemed to be blindsided by the whole thing. As I said in my thread, I have no doubt they will continue to flourish in their own way, but they have become a cautionary tale for any tech start-ups and investors looking to design any form of new platform: be mindful of the decisions you make; ensure you can confidently and earnestly explain your thinking, and; be careful about what the company you choose to keep (or those you step over) says about you.


Pretty much anything Zeynep Tufekci writes is worth a read, but this chimes well with the above and with pretty much any observations about, well, anything right now: polarisation and the very real effects it has on public decisions, this time relating to a public health crisis with very real consequences.


I enjoyed this by Earnest Pettie, Culture and Trends Insights Lead at YouTube, which he shared at the end of 2020. As someone interested in digital ethnography and folklore (digital and otherwise), I find the concept and power of liminality interesting. This article – reading about this trend – suited me perfectly.

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