Talked to a 4th grade class today about writing. Said it was a great job, because I got to make stuff up and didn’t get in trouble for it. Very bright class, and I say that because they were still listening to me after 45 minutes. Fourth-graders at a Montessori school. Made me recall my daughter’s 5th grade class, which was a mess. Restive and fractured - a few kids who really wanted to pay attention, a batch of slumping boys, a bright-but-sarcastic know-it-all, and a mass of kids who’d had the joy of school squeezed out somehow. These kids today were just delightful. Mostly because they were quiet. But listening! Good questions, too.
You always get those kids who want to answer every question and have a comment about everything, and while it’s my instinct not to ignore a waving hand, after the tenth time the attempt to derail your instruction with an anecdote about a Harry Potter movie has to be avoided.


Going through a box of old magazines, I found this:


Ah, yes: the 1984 plan to remake Times Square. Look at the size of those things. That’s 80s architecture at its finest, right there - overscaled with cartoon historical touches, like those big glass mansard roofs and the spiky ornaments atop. People hated them. Good thing they weren’t built. But they tried. In fact, they kept coming back with the same sized buildings, dressed up differently.

This . . . looks like someone split the building on the right from next to hip, and all the guts are spilling out:


The middle building is the same, but the one on the left - well, that’s just hilarious. It was derided by critics for being an Arquitechtonia rip-off, and it is; looks like Lurch going to a Halloween party dressed as a post-modern skyscraper. It has a slider, too! Adjust it up or down to raise or lower the lights building-wide. By the way, the little thing in the middle? That's the old Times Building.

They tried again:



Better and worse. I like the one on the left. It’s so damned eighties. But the one in the middle wears a silly little dunce cap on top. The buildings on teh right are sober but dull - accountants who've come to the crazy party and stand in the corner nursing a beer. This was rejected.

They tried again:



That’s a handsome set of buildings, but the sunset-at-Sedona scheme probably wouldn’t work well in Times Square.

In the end? It was all developed piecemeal. The way it should be.


Who's up for a manifesto? The Atlantic posted a Letter to Old People from the Web Generation today, the work of a young Polish chap. I'm writing this only because it was given some traffic by the Atlantic, and it'll probably be held up as a brave thing the old, firghtened media types will have to understand.

He begins with the usual mistake: young people are different than ANYONE ELSE and maybe your problem, pops, is that you don’t get it. You're square. L-7. Herbert.

We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us different; this is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point of view, difference: we do not 'surf' and the internet to us is not a 'place' or 'virtual space'. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it.

I’m 53. I feel the same way about it. I don't claim it as mine, even though I was here first, watched it grow up, and remember when Yahoo was grey. I may not inhabit it in the sense that I feel required to check in on Foursquare or share every damned atom of information, but this mindset is not limited to people who grew up think they have the wisdom of the ages because they had a hotmail account when they were ten.

Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is to us something as basic as the ability to find a railway station or a post office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of 'Estonia', or whether the water bill is not suspiciously high - we take measures with the certainty of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car.

Translation: we use Google. As for the reasons behind the sinking of the Estonia, I just did somnething that might surprise you: I hit option-title, which called up the Alfred window, and I typed wiki estonia ship, and wow! There it was! A page all about the sinking. I'm going to read it, and I'm going to file away a few pieces of information that seem interesting. It was the worst maritime disaster in modern memory, with over 800 lives lost. One of the reasons someone might care about the reasons? There were rumors and accusations that the ferry was carrying Secret Military Cargo stolen from the Russians to give to the CIA, and some of it exploded. Anyway.

To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the details, we can look them up within seconds.

But what if the detail comes from a website convinced the ship was sabotaged, and it's wrong? And you know it's wrong only because it got some details wrong? There’s a certain pleasure in knowing the unnecessary details - both for their own sake, and when you’re out in the sticks and you can only get the EDGE network and data is so slow nothing happens. Hey, what’s the street name where we're supposed to go?

I don’t know, man! I have an abstract concept of the city.

So what? We need the street name. What are we going to do?

I’ll process the information and relate it to you.

Dude, what does that even mean?

Now, the Elegant and Exquisite Selection Skills of Modern Yout:

Participating in cultural life is not something out of ordinary to us: global culture is the fundamental building block of our identity, more important for defining ourselves than traditions, historical narratives, social status, ancestry, or even the language that we use.

Oh, the self-flattery here. I am a global citizen who is part of a global culture! Meaning? so you use some Xhosa percussion in a video about Japanese manga? Probably not; wouldn’t work. Japanese culture is self-contained, and doesn’t accept outside material very well. Now, anyway - there’s a school of thought that says that the father of manga, the guy who came up with Astroboy, was influenced by Carl Barks, but nevermind that now. If you mean that global culture is the fundamental building block of (y)our identity, then you mean that you wear things picked from other cultures like scarves or bracelets or shirts with Messages. You don’t mean that you have accepted and internalized other cultures.

There is no global culture. There is are a few distinct internet cultures, and they may have a global reach, but it’s not a procrustean bed that accepts everything and absorbs everything and turns it into wonderful internetty art. It has its biases and prejudices and shortcomings and blind spots. The idea that it would influence you more than tradition, historical narrative, social status, ancestry or language is the sort of nonsense you get from humorless utopians, and makes you suspect that their embrace of their new world is fueled mostly by their rejection of the old one.

Yes, ancestry and social status are irrelevant on the internet, and that’s one of the great things about it. But this “global culture” is more important than tradition, you say? Every aspect of every culture that feeds into this big global pot is a result of tradition. Memes are merely tradition for the short-attention span generation. More important than historical narrative? An excuse for ignorance. Hey, as a Polish person, it is not important to get a deep appreciation for the relationship between my country and Russia - not when we can remix some of their house music and drop in some samples of Chopin, and hey presto, global culture!

More important than language? Okay. Fine. When you torrent a movie, it doesn’t matter which language it’s in, right? What counts is gettin’ all global wit it.


From the ocean of cultural events we pick the ones that suit us the most; we interact with them, we review them, we save our reviews on websites created for that purpose, which also give us suggestions of other albums, films or games that we might like. Some films, series or videos we watch together with colleagues or with friends from around the world; our appreciation of some is only shared by a small group of people that perhaps we will never meet face to face. This is why we feel that culture is becoming simultaneously global and individual.

And now, the punchline:

This is why we need free access to it.

Marvelous logic: we feel this way, ergo give it to us. He goes on with some conditions, but notes: “the sales goals of corporations are of no interest to us whatsoever.”


You get that? You see what the cat is laying down? In stark contrast to every generation that came before, this generation has no interest in the sales goals of corporations. WHAT. SO. EVER.

One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the external memory network these are simply memories.

“The external memory network” is the internet. So there you go. If you liked a song at camp 10 years ago, you should be able to have it for free. That also goes for the music that accompanied us ten hours ago, I suspect. Note also that the item connected with a memory becomes the memory itself, which is a peculiar fusing of experience and identity to commodities. I thought they were above such things.

We find online the films that we watched as children and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.

One of the necessary aspects for Manifesto writing is the ability to anticipate the argument of the other side; this way, when someone says “no one would accuse me of breaking the law for reading a story in the public domain, unless of course I had shoplifted the book,” you’d have a response.

Then there’s a point about social status that has a distinctly European flavor, and seems quaint to American ears. We do not need special status to speak to anyone, be it a professor or a pop star! That’s quite correct. But this is incoherent:

We do not feel a religious respect for 'institutions of democracy' in their current form, we do not believe in their axiomatic role, as do those who see 'institutions of democracy' as a monument for and by themselves. We do not need monuments.

It is a waste of time to tell us what you don’t need, and it makes you sound terribly important, as if anyone was planning to give you monuments or was concerned that the 20-something Monument Appetite was shrinking. It would also help the rest of us if you could define what the "instittutions of democracy" were. Parliaments? Local councils? Voting? Then:

We need a system that will live up to our expectations, a system that is transparent and proficient.

Those are nice; they are not enough. He goes on:

And we have learned that change is possible: that every uncomfortable system can be replaced and is replaced by a new one, one that is more efficient, better suited to our needs, giving more opportunities.

Perhaps “uncomfortably” worked better in the original Polish; maybe there’s an idiomatic implication to the word that would help me understand him better. Oh, right: global culture is more important than language, so nevermind. But while every system can be replaced, it is wishful thinking to believe this means it’s replaced by something better. Unless he equates efficiency and better suited to his needs as “better.” Isn’t there a moral component to consider? Whether or not something is good? Or are “more opportunities” sufficient? You can Godwin that construct with ease.

He elaborates:

What we value the most is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of access to information and to culture. We feel that it is thanks to freedom that the Web is what it is, and that it is our duty to protect that freedom. We owe that to next generations, just as much as we owe to protect the environment.

Perhaps we have not yet given it a name, perhaps we are not yet fully aware of it, but I guess what we want is real, genuine democracy. Democracy that, perhaps, is more than is dreamt of in your journalism.

Annnd he sticks the landing with a clumsy Shakespeare remix. Quoting a British bard in a Polish manfesto: damned global, but like the rest of the global culture, loaded with Western bias. (That's the little secret they don't want to admit: al the good stuff they want to preserve and protect is Western in origin or derived from its principles.)

Anyway, I would be more impressed about the call for Democracy if he hadn’t spent the majority of the second plank complaining that movies cost more than they should.

There you have it. A better manifesto for the internet generation awaits its creation. Let them use this document as a foundation, an example, and a warning.

Today's teaser: anyone want to guess the name of the movie? All is revealed tomorrow.











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