Welcome to Galaxy Brain -- a newsletter from Charlie Warzel about technology and culture and big ideas. You can read what this is all about here. If you like what you see, consider forwarding it to a friend or two. We're still figuring things out in our new home so let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Tuesday, everyone. Hope you had a great Cyber Monday interacting with #brands.
Cyber Monday comes for us all. A reality of working on the internet is that eventually you will be selling … some version of yourself. This is the part of the job I am not very good at. While I’ve found I’m reasonably adept at shameless self-promotion across social media, I’m still sheepish when it comes to asking people to pay for my work. But here’s the deal. Starting tomorrow, The Atlantic’s free trial period for subscriber newsletters is over, and most of Galaxy Brain’s editions will be for paid customers only. If you’re new here in the last month, welcome! There are tons of you (gah!) and that makes me so excited. I want to take a minute to talk about that.
The first and most important thing is that if you were on my Substack list, you’ll be getting an email tomorrow with details on how to activate your free one-year digital subscription to The Atlantic. Once you do that, you won’t miss a single one of these newsletters. Please, please, please look for that email and take a minute to activate the subscription! Otherwise, you’re leaving quite a good deal on the table.
Part of the appeal of this newsletter for me has always been that it is a way to directly participate in new areas of the tech/media landscape and then, hopefully, report back on it to you all. Since launching Galaxy Brain in April, I feel like I’ve learned a great deal about independent media, subscriber chasing, audience building, content promotion, how one ought to price one’s work, and all the weird, delightful parasocial relationships that come with media and online influencer culture merging. I’ve tried to be as transparent as I can about all these lessons as I experience them. I think of it as a kind of stunt journalism … except it’s not a stunt; it’s just me trying to do my job.
As part of that transparency, I’ll note that I’m definitely a little anxious about this next part of the experiment. I’ve always wanted my work to be widely accessible, and I delight in learning that somebody new has come across my work, found meaning in it, and then been able to enjoy the back catalog. That process can still happen, but there’s now a touch more friction. At Substack, I found myself mostly unwilling to paywall my posts, in part because it seemed that one of the best ways to grow my paid audience was to allow as many people as possible to see what I was doing in full view. One post might convert somebody to a paid subscriber, but many subscribers told me that they were convinced to pony up after skimming through my archives. I sure hope that some people who’ve been on the fence about paying for my work will come up against a paywall and think, I’ve been meaning to subscribe to The Atlantic anyhow, why not?! If so, use this referral link—it will help me out big time.
But I also imagine that more paywalled content will mean that my newsletter experience is less tied to Twitter. This may be better for me or it may be worse, but regardless, it’s a little scary, as I’ve become extremely used to watching my work travel across the platform. It has long been exhilarating and maddening to receive feedback this way, but it is also the devil I know, and it will be hard to see that change.
This isn’t the end of free Galaxy Brain posts. Some newsletters will be available to the general public (maybe one a month?) and I’m hoping that they will do the job of finding new readers and bringing them into this community. I’m also excited that The Atlantic’s substantial subscribing audience will hopefully stumble upon us and join in. I do not want Galaxy Brain to change very much, but if I’m being honest, I think parts of this newsletter will change … for the better! A slightly more closed community will mean that I can be a little less formal and a little more interactive with you all.
Here’s how I imagine it: newsletters that build off older editions, where we develop a kind of shorthand together and I don’t need to spend a lot of time introducing you to a topic. We can pick up where we left off on subjects like the attention economy, “Is crypto a scam?,” the future of work, or the latest platform debacle. Galaxy Brain has long been an email-delivery service for a 2,500-word essay once or twice a week, but I imagine a closed ecosystem shaking that format up sometimes. If I’m not always chasing an audience with bigger and bigger takes, there’s room for shorter posts and discussions that are more akin to a rolling conversation. I, for one, would love to spend more time responding in public to your questions, comments, and reactions to certain ideas and arguments.
Smaller editions mean recurring features are easier to do. Back at Substack I did a post called “Calibrate Your Anxiety: Debt Ceiling” and expressed my desire to build a little “worry matrix” chart to plot different news events—a bunch of you wrote in with design ideas and x- and y-axis ideas. So I want to mock that up and see where it goes in the coming weeks. Because Galaxy Brain covers lots of future-of-work stuff, I am going to start a little weekly “Post Your Posting Station” segment, in which you send me your work from home setup, either to brag or to solicit advice for ways to make it better (if you’re working remotely from a different location that’s glorious, we want to see that, too). Email me submissions: email@example.com — or just reply to this email. I’d also like to hear your greatest WFH success and failure stories, if you’ve got them. Vent away to my inbox … please!
I’m going to do a variation on a book club that is maybe more like a reading list. Every month I’m going to choose a book. At the end of that month, I’m going to post about it in some form and then do a Zoom or a Discord chat about it. You can read along, or simply read my post and then come talk about it, because that feels like it might be less demanding on your busy lives. This might work, or it might be a huge failure. For the first book, I’m choosing Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman. I’ll be reading it over December, and any posting/discussion will start early January. I won’t always choose a nonfiction book and am totally open to crowdsourcing suggestions!
Speaking of the community aspect, I’ve mentioned before that new, paying Atlantic subscribers who sign up for Galaxy Brain will get access to Sidechannel, a Discord server that I run with other newsletter writers. It is a really open-minded, wonderfully generative space. Last week, after my crypto-true-believer newsletter, I spent about four hours in deep debate with two dozen Sidechannelers (many of them offering constructive criticisms) and came away with a slew of new things to read and think about. We’re going to try to integrate new members in a sustainable way so that the community can grow but not lose what makes it special.
What else? I don’t fully know. I’ll continue doing what I do, which is try to make you think differently about things you’re seeing and experiencing both online and in the world and to put words to how it feels to be alive right now. I am going to run extremely long, in-the-weeds-y interviews with people I think are interesting. Next up is a long conversation with a crypto skeptic (nominations, anyone?). But the idea is to use these conversations to help me work out big questions I have about the world. And, of course, I’ll still be writing the standard Galaxy Brain posts you’ve all come to enjoy.
I feel like I’ve said this 900 times since April, but this newsletter is a total experiment during what feels like a very transitory time for the internet. Tech folks seem to think we're in some weird nether region between Web 2.0 and a third edition of the internet where … everyone … buys tokens? What I’m trying to say is it’s a strange moment. Everything feels both very possible and also like it is about to collapse and be revealed as either unsustainable or a fraud. So Galaxy Brain is going to try to live through that. I’m going to keep doing inside baseball, newslettering about running a newsletter (now newsletter 2.0—semi-paywalled edition from inside a larger media corporation). I’ll try to be as transparent as I can be about it all. Hopefully you’ll let me know how the experience is on your end and we can talk about it here!
Anyhow, that’s the pitch. I hope, if you’re one of those free-trial folks, that you’ll come along and grab a subscription. I think I’ve made a decent case for the value on my end. But even if you’re on the fence about me, you’ll be getting access to an entire magazine and eight other excellent newsletters … and me. Like I said, bonkers deal. So, without further rambling, I will humbly don my most fashionable outfit, clear my throat, attempt my best YouTube influencer voice, and implore: