Keith Kahn Harris

professionally curious, communally engaged

The surprising rewards to connecting via The Listserve

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A few weeks ago I signed up for The Listserve. It’s one of those ideas that are so simple you wonder why no one thought of it before. You sign up to the e-mail list (currently it has 20,000 subscribers and they are aiming for 1 million). Every day one person is selected randomnly and is given the opportunity to post to the list – up to 250 words and with no photos or hyperlinks, otherwise they can say whatever they like. And that’s it.

I was selected at the weekend and my post went on the list on Monday. Naturally my post explained my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg (although I was careful not to make it too obvious a plug).

I didn’t expect much of a response, but to may amazement I have been inundated with delightful e-mails and tweets, many of them offering assistance. The project has also attracted a lot of new funders from the list. It’s been really heartening to have so many people express interest in and support for what I’m trying to so.

It’s also been a real surprise as, given the flood of e-mails most of us receive every day these days, I didn’t expect my one to cut through the noise. It’s actually been a much more effective publicity tool than anything else I’ve done to promote my project – including appearing on TV and radio.

I suppose part of the reason must be that even given the masses of spam and other e-mails that everyone receives all the time, it’s still a fairly personal medium. An e-mail addresses you directly, however imperfectly. It’s nice to be reminded that personal(ish) communication still has a value.

Anyway, here’s the text of the e-mail I sent:

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Dear The Listserve people

I doubt you’ll recognise my name.

I’m not famous. I’ll never be famous.

But I have always aspired to be ‘someone’, a person who made some kind of small but significant contribution to ‘something’ . As it happened, I found such a modest niche. I’m a sociologist, working on two very specialised areas – the sociology of hevy metal and the sociology of the British Jewish community. Needless to say, there aren’t many of us working in either area. I’m really just a reasonably big fish in a couple of pretty small ponds.

So for the last few years I’ve made a joke about being such a big fish in a small pond. I’ve said that really I’m just like ‘the best water skier in Luxembourg’. Needless to say I didn’t know anything about water skiing in Luxembourg.

But about a year ago I had a brianstorm: why not go and meet the best water skier in Luxembourg? Why not write a book about him/her and about other big fish in small ponds too? The idea seized me with excitement. This could be a polemic against power and celebrity, a celebration of the unknown heroes in obscure small worlds, a tribute to commitment and community.

So I’ve been working on the book. I actually met the best water skier in Luxembourg last year and I’m preparing further trips to visit such other obscure figures as the Icelandic special forces, the top novelist in Suriname and the best heavy metal band in Botswana.

The book is being crowd-funded so I need the help of strangers to complete my project. You can’t post links on The Listserve but if you google ‘best water skier in Luxembourg’ or e-mail me, you can find out more.

In the meantime thank you to The Listerserve for making me a little bit famous for one e-mail.

Yours

Keith Kahn-Harris

London, UK

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