On Viral Oscillations in a Polarized World

Readers of this blog may or may not know that I also host this blog on Substack. Readers of this blog on Substack may or may not know that the newsletter you receive is hosted at my original home on blogspot

The reasons for this redundancy don't make a lot of sense. I was happy to keep blogging in nichey obscurity on blogspot until Blogger notified users that it wasn't going to support the email subscription function anymore. Knowing that a lot of readers followed the blog via email, I went in search of a solution. The very inefficient idea I came up with was, "Hey, I'll just copy and paste this stuff into a Substack newsletter." Substack, you see, being built around an email subscription platform. 

And so, this blog came to exist in two parallel digital spaces. I know it doesn't make any sense. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Anyway, being on Substack has given me access to some analytical information that I've found fascinating to watch. Specifically, since Substack is built around email subscriptions you can keep easy track of when people Subscribe and Unsubscribe from your newsletter. You can watch that line go up and down, up and down, noting what sorts of posts trigger that movement. And here's what I've found watching my subscriptions on Substack:

My email subscriptions wobble. 

This wobble is due to what I'll call "viral oscillations in a polarized world." 

To start, we all know what goes viral. Posts go viral when they hit that sweet spot of polarization. Viral posts perfectly capture the reigning sentiments of either the cultural Right or Left. Occasionally, for example, I write a post that criticizes something on the Right or the Left. These posts, predictably, get shared by readers. These posts have an "edge" or "bite" that people want to share. A post that criticizes the Right gets shared by readers on the Left. As that post gets seen and shared by others on the Left, my email subscriptions jump up. New, left-leaning readers start following the blog. 

A few posts later, I'll write a post that criticizes the Left. This post resonates with my readers on the Right, who share it online. This causes Right-leaning readers to come and subscribe. My subscriptions go up. 

If you're a regular reader, you can see the trouble brewing for these new subscribers. They aren't going to get the content they think they've signed up for. Subscribers on the Right, who showed up because my viral Left-critical post, don't like it when I turn around and criticize them. That's not what they signed up for.

In the same way, Subscribers on the Left, who showed up because of my viral Right-critical post, don't like it when I turn around and criticize them. That's not what they signed up for.

And so, these new Subscribers eventually unsubscribe. Like I said, my subscriptions wobble. My subscriptions oscillate due to the psychological dynamics of virality in a polarized world. Posts only go viral if they have a "contagious" aspect to them, and that virality is typically rooted in Left/Right polarization, a post that serves to advance some cultural narrative among either liberals or conservatives. Viral posts are "fighting words" that are only heard in an echo chamber. 

Trouble is, I feel like I'm fighting pretty much everyone. When you subscribe to this blog due to a viral post you're not getting who you think you're getting. If you're a new reader, you're going to be on a learning curve. You will slowly find out who I am, and when you do there's a good chance you won't like me. More likely, though, is that I'll just start to bore you. Most of what I write about each day is quirky and idiosyncratic and rarely fits with what's currently trending on Twitter.  

So, to all new Substack readers who show up thinking I'm on their side of the culture wars: My sincerest apologies, but I'm not your huckleberry. The post that drew you here isn't likely to be a reliable clue about what I'm up to day in and day out. Of course, I'm happy you showed up and subscribed. Welcome! But I also understand when it's time for us to part ways. My subscriptions do have a tendency to wobble. 

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