Eight Thresholds But Who’s Counting: Some HOMAGO on the Routine Liminal Margins in Browsing

Below is a thread on Mastodon (think “kind tribal Twitter”).  I wrote a poem on the nature of luck online.  I included a YouTube link in the toot (that’s what they call tweets in Mastodonia). I have never included a link in a poem.

Room #1 below.  There is a threshold to this initial room.  Something happened that made the threshold permeable enough to let Kevin walk through.  We are old hands at the invitation game as well as the reciprocation game.  It would seem that this “room/poem” is embedded within a larger, unspoken adjacent space that has been a long time in the making, is very permeable, yet forgiving.

Threshold #1: the YouTube link

I would imagine that most folk would not click on the link. It’s in the second line of a poem and it would appear to be referenced only in passing. Besides, the video is also at the bottom of the toot. Isn’t that an invite to watch it at the end?

If a poem is a set of mental directions (and I believe it is) I don’t want you waiting to view the video, but the poem is loose in the wild so I can’t do much about whether you follow directions or not.

Threshold #2

There are a couple of thresholds here: the one that is at the point of the click and the other which is an amalgam of steps (i.e. more thresholds): watch the stupid YT ad until you can click it away, watch the video, deciding whether to continue to watch the video, and completing or leaving the video.  Most of these thresholds can be described as answering this question: shall I continue to attend to this?  Do I owe the person who directed me here anything more than a cursory attendance?

Threshold #3

And then there is the threshold back.  Mastodon opens a wormhole out of the poem to YouTube, but it’s a one-way.  I looked in the settings to see if I could change this, but nada. So you have to click on the original Mastodon browser tab to return to the poem. Again, more friction.  Maybe I should just call this the cost of doing business or the ante in a poker game.  The issue is this:  how willing are folks to ante up?  I think that is highly variable and depends on the attitude of the person who is deciding to cross or not cross the threshold.

And that attitude may be independent of any online relationship we may have.  What I mean is that perhaps you like poetry or are a denizen of the #smallpoems hashtag in Mastodon.  You have some kind of relationship to an idea or a process. More likely is that you have a relationship with me that predates the discourse threshold. We know and trust each other enough for both of us to trust that we would not waste each other’s time.  And I try to make it worth your time by drawing your attention to the threshold

Threshold #4

Kevin crosses over the threshold and back to Mastodon.  He brings back a piece of the carcass of the poem that he has, I hope, been chewing on.  It is my turn to cross his threshold.  I do that by casting an onus on him.  In other words I ask him a question: How do you feel, as a reader, about the distraction of a hyperlink?

Threshold #5

He responds to my call.  First, I note that he has a sense that he is “leaving” the poem space. He is crossing a liminal boundary, a threshold. He notes that this process is ‘distracting’. He qualifies that by calling it a “bit distracting” which I take to mean that the threshold was not wholly permeable.  Coming back (interestingly, he ‘had to’), Kevin notes that he ‘followed the map’.  I am not entirely sure what he means by “the map”. Maybe the map is the set of navigational defaults that are the part of normal browser behavior (back button, tabs, etc.) Maybe it means Kevin considers the poem to be a map or as I suggested earlier in this post, it’s a set of mental directions.  I think we are on the same wavelength.


Threshold #6

Call and response continues. I cross back over his threshold with some speculative questions for his consideration.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to study these liminal moments of transition: from text to hyperlink to digital object and back button to poem again?

That is pretty much what I am exploring here in this blog post. I am trying to describe how I see all these thresholds. I am using the metaphor of a threshold as an analytical tool and the word “liminal” as the idea that underlays ‘threshold’. This is called ‘flying blind’.

What happens in our minds as we ‘code shift’? Is it actually code shifting? Something else?

Not even sure if code shifting is the right word for this crossing over.  Maybe hopscotching would be better, more playfully graceful.  Is this hopscotching a natural behavior or is it learned?  Since the graphic browser internet is only about a generation old, I might suggest that is learned for those born before 1994 and second-nature for those born afterwards.  Do those who have never known a world without a browser on the web feel this tug, this friction, as they cross over?  Hypothesis? Yes, but they might call it something different.

Is this something we can learn to do better, to invoke better, to share better?

Is this a teacher/learner question or what?   I think being aware of these liminal itches is helpful to teachers and learners.  I am assuming they are always looking to “validate” true itches. Or are they?  Are there observable and definable ‘thresholding skills’ that we can feel?  I think so. For example, how can you use your browser and its extensions and add-ons to be able to freely hopscotch from digital space-to-digital space without friction while simultaneously remembering and being able to analyze the map you have created in your passing.  Gamers are always keeping a map of the territory in their heads even if they are provided one in an inset in the game itself.

That mapping part is especially important as a reflective tool.  I don’t do enough of it. That’s why I stopped here with Kevin’s help to do it here. Maybe we get woke together?


Threshold #7

Kevin hopscotches back into my court by sharing vocabulary and then uses it analytically to critique Mastodon much as I did earlier.  On the same wavelength. Again.  He wishes that the original YouTube link in the story would not open into a new tab or new window.  He suggests that opening in a side tab might be more helpful.  I try to find a way to do this on Chrome, Safari, Opera and Firefox. No joy.  It is clear that I do not understand.  Matters not.  Clearly, some thresholds are more permeable than others and have more friction.  I find it telling that we are overwhelmed by tactile metaphor as we try to describe this ‘crossing over’.  Why not smells?  Why is touch so…dominant?

Final Threshold

Conclusions?  First, we don’t pay enough attention to the subtle and ordinary haptic feelings that our net tools have generated.  Second, we don’t challenge the ways our browser technologies make us conform.  Third, I don’t question my workaday info seeking world.  The quotidien is almost always hidden.  It is what Kevin alludes to at the end of his final toot. He is referring to Teju Coles’ hybrid image/text book, Blind Spot.

Lev Feigin describes Coles’ book this way:

Another Way of Telling: Teju Cole’s Blind Spot
Urban non-events; quiet minutiae; delicate juxtapositions—with a literary eye, the celebrated writer turned photo critic turned photographer Teju Cole takes us around the world with his camera and pen, transforming passing moments into gem-like vignettes you won’t soon forget.
I don’t kid myself that I remotely approach Coles’ ability to reveal blind spots. What I have done is to adopt Coles’ attitude toward one of our most quotidien behaviors–what goes on and what blind spots are revealed when we look at browsing with the metaphor of the threshold.  For me, a lot has been revealed. I suspect that these blind spots have blind spots of their own.  It has been fun.  Maybe you can take up the attitude and find more.  I know I will continue to look for more thresholds and I hope you take up the mantle, too.  If you do, you might also want to look at another video that is helpful in revealing blind spots.

6 Replies to “Eight Thresholds But Who’s Counting: Some HOMAGO on the Routine Liminal Margins in Browsing”

  1. I like your use of “thresholds” in this article. In some ways I might call them “hurdles” or “barriers”. It takes a pretty motivated person to navigate the multiple thresholds you and Kevin navigated in this journey.

    i think on the Internet, most people don’t pass the first threshold: “Do I open this email, or this Tweet, or this link”?

    That’s what I thought when I read this: “Most of these thresholds can be described as answering this question: shall I continue to attend to this? Do I owe the person who directed me here anything more than a cursory attendance?’

    Then this: “More likely is that you have a relationship with me that predates the discourse threshold. We know and trust each other enough for both of us to trust that we would not waste each other’s time. ”

    That’s what motivates me to search Twitter every couple of days to see what you and Kevin are posting, and what motivates me to click into your blogs and dig deeper.

    That trust is built over many years.

    PS: I’ve not been in Mastodon for a few months. I kept trying to get in but something was not working. I gave up.

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