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The Internet’s Unkillable App

The Atlantic, by Dave Pell: “The noisier our digital lives get, the more popular the humble newsletter becomes. The Romans brought the newsletter into existence. Later, in the Middle Ages, newsletters became common forms of communication among extended families, traders, and those looking to share information in a format that eventually led to what we know (knew?) as the newspaper. After reviewing the history of this medium, of which I’m a frequent practitioner, I’m now convinced that when Caesar said “Et tu, Brute?” he was actually asking Brutus if he wanted to subscribe. Cut to 2020, when the 14 million customers of a single email platform called Mailchimp sent out 333,635,013,035 newsletters that, among other things, drove more than $64 billion in revenue. Extremely long story short: Rome fell. The newsletter didn’t. How did the unpretentious and simple newsletter outlive empires and technological transformation, not only displaying the survivability of the tardigrade but also somehow becoming the cool new thing without much reinvention at all? The typically digestible length, coupled with the simple, minimalist format—an easily shareable, single page of content written on papyrus, pecked out on a typewriter, or thumbed on an iPhone—helps explain the longevity. But the solid fuel-thruster that rocketed the newsletter format to the edge of the atmosphere during the decades since your 14.4K modem first connected to the web, and that has pushed it into the stratosphere in 2021, is the newsletter’s inseparability from its ancient-by-internet-standards delivery mechanism: email…”

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