Phthursday Musings: Transmission
or, Little Pieces
I was asked a question this week about how well I feel this Substack has gone, if it’s met my goals / expectations / etc. I thought it an excellent topic to go a little meta on.
Preferentially, I’d have a lot more regular readers, and there would also be a place where readers were more regularly interacting about the pieces. Every time I write, I post a link to Facebook, and I tweet a link out, and there’s also the comments section within Substack itself. In all of these places, 99% of all interactions which occur are just between me and a reader. There’s no discussion, not even between people who know each other. Yes, this is a side effect of the algorithms burying links like this. But I think it’s something beyond that: Many of us have just stopped regularly using social media for that kind of back and forth.
There are spaces, certainly, where that kind of back and forth occurs. Actual discussions do break out on Reddit and even still on Facebook and, I am told, on Twitter, though I’m not sure I’ve ever actually quite seen such a thing. But I find I’m not in those spaces anymore, and it doesn’t seem like most people I know are.
A lot of people I know who have been more “engaged” in social media over time, it seems like the one place they still are (where I also still am) is Instagram, and the very nature of Instagram is that it does not lend itself to conversation. There’s no logical way I can post to Instagram that I’ve got a new META-SPIEL out, and I don’t even attempt to do that.
Overall then I’m inclined to argue that Substack works pretty well as a newsletter medium, and I like the tool simplicity, it’s good for the writing / construction of a piece, but it doesn’t really satisfy that missing element that LiveJournal or middle times Facebook had of encouraging discussion. And, perhaps semi-consciously, I have moved in the direction of writing things that wouldn’t have fostered that kind of discussion anyway.
One of my observations in thinking about how well Substack has worked really doesn’t have to do with Substack per se.
Dating back as far as we can think of to a social media tool where you “added people” - friends on Facebook, following on Twitter, whatever the hell Six Degrees was - from that point forward we were constantly adding people. From time to time we might also have been purging ridiculously large lists, but, generally speaking, we’d meet people, we’d start interacting with them in real life, so we’d add them on Facebook. We’d have mutual followers, we’d interact over email lists, we’d add them on Facebook. Every so often there was some kind of minor Life Event which naturally lent itself to such things: you get a new job and therefore new co-workers, your wife gets a new job and therefore new co-workers, you show up for some meeting of some other organization and meet new people, your kid is on a baseball team and you meet other parents, whatever.
Not only was it the case that you would add people, but both the algorithms and the natural cadence of living was such that you’d interact with those people more up front. Your kid’s friend’s mom is now your Facebook friend? Okay, now you can see how their family is from New Mexico, and their fence is in disrepair, and someone has an opinion about where to go, and you say, yeah, they did good with my fence too… so social media has tended to have a recency bias.
Well, for me at least, and I’m quite sure for many of you, all that is just not the case anymore. By having cutting back significantly on social media, and this overlapping a pandemic, and a time when I’m just not naturally encountering too many other people with whom I have a lot of shared interests: Social media actually now has an anti-recency bias. It’s full of people from all sorts of different times in my life, but hardly anyone I might see out in the community today.
Dwelling upon this… it’s a little easier to understand how so many people have fallen into echo chambers and rabbit holes online. I find the conceptual prospect depressing - in multiple senses of the word. And depression can so easily feed itself.
Little man and I availed ourselves of an otherwise empty weeknight schedule this week to take in a Sox game. No, we’re not exactly supposed to be getting shut out at home by the Orioles. But it was a good time nonetheless.
On the way home, going up the Dan Ryan briefly and then transitioning to the Stevenson to take us home, he was very taken by the clear view of downtown. He grabbed my phone at one point and tried to take pictures. It’s not easy to take pictures like that from the back seat of a moving car, especially when moving perpendicularly to the wanted visage.
This one, though, I find particularly fascinating:
It’s Willis Tower, peeking over the top of a concrete barrier on the ramp from the northbound Dan Ryan to the southbound Stevenson. Both antennae are visible, and that’s about it. How exactly he got the barrier to look quite like that I’m really not sure.
He was exhausted - he’s not usually up until almost 11 watching Orioles intercepting barrages of balls hit into the gap - but the brief enrapturement with downtown moved me.
I feel like there’s an answer in this for the broader conundrum I describe above, but I’m missing the steps between the disparate pieces.
On the way back this was on the radio. Did you have any clue there was a video for this? I sure didn’t. I’ll leave you with it for tonight.