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A blooming writer fellowship
Now that I am well in my 40s, the only things that manage to surprise me are those that shake my cynicism. This happens rarely, but when it does I am disarmed by peaceful resignation: despite all its horrors and all my bitterness, the world is going to be just fine. These moments unfailingly find me outside or beyond screens, where humans interact with other humans and exhibit small but essential signs of a persevering generosity. Rarely–no, never–had I experienced such a feeling while witnessing people interacting online. Partly because the majority of the exchanges I saw were antagonistic, but also because I was aware, like everyone else, of a constant audience that rendered every positive act, however genuine, into a performance.
Here at Substack, we keep talking about a subscription network and what that means. The word we most often use to describe its wiring is trust; there is a bond of good faith that unites writers and readers here because they are both choosing to invest, not waste, time and money in each other. And where there is trust there is always intimacy.
With the release of Notes this month, our subscription network has lit up, and thanks to that foundational trust what we saw run through it was an electrifying goodwill that can shock back to life even the hairy heart of a cynic. Though we are still in the early days of Notes, a clear trend that has made itself known is that of writers promoting the work of other writers they love. Here, where they are even more incentivized than on other platforms by financial reward to grow their own audiences, writers choose instead to shine the spotlight on other writers that nurture their minds–
They endorse them,
encourage readers to subscribe to them,
make it their mission to surface and highlight those deserving attention,
There was an authenticity in these endorsements that moved me in a way that I had not experienced on an online forum before, precisely because the stakes here were higher. To recommend a Substack is to recommend a habit, an ongoing communion with a certain consciousness that feeds yours. It is not an act of charity but one of generosity to other writers, readers, but also to the self because writing is the one gift we can enjoy more the more we share it with others. A subscription network sparkles bright and expands with what we are willing to share rather than claim from each other.
As Ted Gioia put it:
I can confirm what other Substack writers have reported—the launch of Notes has accelerated subscriber growth. I’ve gotten a noticeable boost, and other writers here have enjoyed even bigger gains.
This is more validation that the platform grows by creating a community (or a group of overlapping communities). This not only benefits all participants, writers and readers, but also sharply differentiates our work from most other legacy media outlets—where the stratified, hierarchical approach and (let’s be honest) poor comment quality make community building almost impossible.
We have a genuine chance to do something different here. Maybe it has already started.
The magic of the digital space we aspire to build will not be powered by code, but by the same principles that underline good human behavior. Thank you for bringing that fellowship on Notes and giving even the most jaded among us reasons to remain optimistic.