It’s a bit of a brain twister: Substack, eager to attract customers over Mailchimp or WordPress, has begun to look like it’s reverse engineering a media company. But all the while, its founders insist that they simply provide a platform. By not acknowledging the ways in which they are actively encouraging (and discouraging) certain people to use Substack, and the ways they benefit monetarily from doing so, they obscure their role as publishers. As Study Hall’s Allegra Hobbs put it over the summer, “It seems the creators of Substack, in their zeal to become the future of media, are trying to have it both ways—to keep an appropriate editorial distance while also actively supporting writers beyond merely providing a space to publish.”
In addition, like many media companies, Substack is dependent on large amounts of venture capital. Time and again, journalists have seen venture capitalists barge in on their newsrooms with claims that they’ll solve the industry’s problems, only to end up losing their jobs or being forced to churn out clickbait. (In the case of Substack, The Atlantic’s Kaitlyn Tiffany has argued that tech bros are monetizing an existing form of media—newsletters—that had long been used, especially by women, to foster communities that were “non-remunerative” and “artistically strange.”) Substack’s founders are open about the fact that media and VC money typically don’t mix well; McKenzie told me that journalists who are VC-skeptical feel “burned for good reasons.” But he said there was a difference between companies like BuzzFeed and Vox Media taking hundreds of millions in venture capital “on a big unproven bet that that can scale to a massive return” and Substack, which he calls “a platform that has a stable, transparent, and simple business model that is proven to work.” When I asked if Substack’s investors were looking for large returns, Best replied, “We have expectations for growth for ourselves that are at least as high as our investors’.”
The first ballpoint pens in the UK cost around 55 shillings (£82.50/$107.50 in 2020 prices),” says Curtin. “One of Bic’s biros only cost you a shilling. It combined functionality with affordability.”
The new pen had an equally dramatic effect on the act of writing itself, says David Sax, the Canadian journalist who wrote the book The Revenge of Analog. “The ballpoint pen was the equivalent of today’s smartphone. Before then, writing was a stationary act that had to be done in a certain environment, on a certain kind of desk, with all these other things to hand that allowed you to write.
“What the ballpoint pen did was to make writing something that could happen anywhere. I’ve written in snow and rain, on the back of an ATV and in a boat at sea and in the middle of the night,” says Sax. Biros don’t drain batteries, they don’t require plugging in in the middle of nowhere, and even the tightest pocket can accommodate them. “It only fails if it runs out of ink,” Sax adds.
Voters want to believe in bipartisan cooperation but it’s a one-way street because Republicans, being a cohesive, radicalized minority party with outsized power, benefit from obstruction. So Democrats have to run as the “unity party” but there’s no way for them to get it. Most people see this and understand it, on both sides. But those people in the middle who Dems need to win the electoral college or in red districts and states don’t pay close enough attention to sort it all out. It’s a problem.
- Oh fine, WordPress. I will finally do something about the “Upgrade PHP” message you’ve been giving me for weeks.
- Remember that when I set up the site a few years ago, I did it on Lightsail using the Bitnami WordPress stack for the sake of expediency.
- What’s that you say? I can’t just upgrade PHP in a Bitnami stack installation?
- Spin up entirely new Lightsail instance with the current Bitnami WordPress stand and then spend an hour migrating the site to the new instance.
- Fire up the new site, iron out a few bugs, and then discover that the PHP version is still out of date, although at least not as out of date as it was on the old instance.
It’s stuff like that this that makes me want to shovel WordPress into the bin. It’s overly complicated for my purposes, and my site would run fine on a much simpler flat-file CMS.
Then I think of how I keep ending up back on WordPress.
I went through a probably five years of being fascinated with flat-file CMSs and tried a bunch of them. They are cool, but I always run into some weird template problem I can’t figure out, or development on the project withers away and I’m left with some legacy site that doesn’t keep up with security and functionality updates.
Then I go back to WordPress.
Technology is terrible.
It’s time to buckle up and lock ourselves down again, and to do so with fresh vigilance. Remember: We are barely nine or 10 months into this pandemic, and we have not experienced a full-blown fall or winter season. Everything that we may have done somewhat cautiously—and gotten away with—in summer may carry a higher risk now, because the conditions are different and the case baseline is much higher.
When community transmission is this high, every kind of exposure is more dangerous. A gym class is more likely to have someone who is infectious. Workplaces will have more cases, meaning more employees will unknowingly bring the virus home. More people at the grocery store will be positive. A casual gathering of friends may be harder to hold outdoors. Even transmission from surfaces may pose a higher risk now, because lower humidity levels may improve the survivability of the virus.
Plus, the holidays are upon us, which means a spike in gatherings of people who do not otherwise see one another. Such get-togethers, especially if they are multigenerational, can spark more outbreaks. I take no joy in saying this, but all of this means that any gathering outside one’s existing quarantine pod should be avoided for now—especially if it is indoors. Think of it as a postponement and plan to hold it later. Better a late Christmas than an early medical catastrophe. Pods should not expand unless absolutely necessary. Order takeout instead of dining indoors. Make game night virtual. Shop in bulk, so you can do fewer trips to the store. It’s not the right time for wedding receptions or birthday parties.