I finally finished the NYT article on irony that was going around last week.
There is a lot there to think about but the part that really interested me is,
“How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done”
I don’t disagree that the feeling is there because it is an old axiom we all accept. “Do I have new stories to tell? New photos to create or art to make? Probably not, ho hum.”
But culture is not just the art or style we create. It is also how we communicate, what we fill our day with, and the community we create. In the last few decades technology has changed what we can imagine and how we communicate so fast we can barely keep up with it. Facebook, Twitter, Jeggings, Kickstarter, Pinterest, smartphones, iBeg (a game about being homeless to help raise awareness), Creative Commons, dubstep. All of these come with questions of how to make them part of our life. How do we best use Facebook to communicate with our loved ones? What privacy protections will we accept from social networks and our government? What is the etiquette for checking your text messages at the dinner with family or on a date? We don’t have a set of cultural norms we all agree on for using these new tools yet, but we are all working to figure out what they will be. We talk to friends about frustrations with Facebook. Ignore calls when we prefer texts. (Except from grandma who doesn’t get it.)
The everyday how-to of defining this may not be all that exciting, but in figuring out how it fits in our lives we’re asking questions, interpreting it, and building on top of it we are creating lots that is new. We aren’t making new colors. But we are using colors in ways that no one has ever seen before.
This generation has lots of new to bring to the world and a huge opportunity to shape culture. Regardless of if we’re using irony I think it’s stepping up to the plate and I only hope we realize it. The truth of that old axiom seems incongruous with the time we’re living in because it is.
The Last Waltz is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a film of The Band‘s last concert which they performed in San Francisco on Thanksgiving in 1976. It was filmed by Martin Scorsese and is regarded as one of the greatest rock films of all time.
Members of The Band have influences from rock, folk, country, gospel, and the blues. They are a conduit that took these influences and output their own beautiful amalgam that represents all of it together. Because they represent so much american musical history and music of their day, they were both influencers and the influenced at the same time. You see their effect represented in the friends they bring on stage for the show, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Dr. John, and lots more.
Last Saturday, 36 years after the original Last Waltz, a group of musicians including members of Dr. Dog, Ween, Gomez, Nada Surf, The Lonely Forest, The Submarines and The Antibalas Horns got together on Thanksgiving weekend to perform “The Complete Last Waltz” again in San Francisco. There was no way I was missing that so my friend Sara (Who finally showed me the beauty of the film after I’d been telling my parents it was boring for most of my life.) and I headed over to SF for the show. They burned through all 41 songs taking a break only once and rotating through 3 drummers. It wasn’t a perfect show but it was a great show. They never introduced the entire band, sometimes they’d miss an intro for the singer of the next song, and they adjusted the mic volume as they went. But none of that really mattered. They weren’t there to be introduced, they were there to sing these songs to a room of friends that danced and sang along with the shared connection of a day in 1976 that we all wish we could have been at. They played it loud, we sang along, and more than a show, it was a celebration.
If you’re interested in an intro to The Band, start with their most famous song The Weight. A couple other great ones to start with are The Night they Drove ol’ Dixie Down and their version of Georgia on my Mind. After you’ve gotten to know the boys a little try, It makes no difference.
XOXO was my first conference. It was not at all what I expected. People kept telling me that it would spoil me for other ones. It wasn’t people looking for opportunities to find partners or business people scouring for opportunities. It was just a bunch of people that share a love of the Internet and that believe it is changing our real life, not just our life in front of the screen.
When I talk to my friends outside of the tech world I try to convey that what I love about the net today isn’t just the things I can do on my computer and phone but the ways it’s reaching out to change my every day life and make it better outside of that box. Strava, Geocaching, and Uber are a few of the examples I give. It’s hard to explain how getting or inputing a little info through that screen in your pocket can make the time you’re not looking at that screen richer but those examples can give a glimmer. But even with those examples it’s hard to explain the bigger picture of the possibilities I hope for. What an API is and why the trend to have open access to data from places like Yelp or Flickr might really change your life in a way that has nothing to do with screens or microchips is hard to explain. XOXO was being in a room with 400+ people that understand that and were inspired enough to want to be part of what’s next.
The idea of success that I imagined growing up was making a lot of money, having a big house, being rich. XOXO underscored over and over that there is technology available toady to all of us that lets us do what we love and cut out the middle man. We heard stories of people that did what they loved, put it on YouTube and Kickstarter and aren’t millionaires but connected with enough people that they can make a living doing what they love. It was a much more appetizing and attainable definition of success than the dream of being rich that we were all sold growing up.
Kickstarter, CASH Music, Lyft, iTunes, Google Play, Etsy. The world is cutting out the middle man. Creators don’t have to beat the big guys at their own game. We can go play in our own sandbox and consumers will be able to choose. XOXO made me believe in an economy where it’s normal for someone to make money doing what they love, not for $1,000,000,000,000 but for enough to enjoy their life and feed their family by connecting to enough people. More importantly it inspired me to be one of them.
Lastly, Portland was amazing! I felt at home, I fell in love with the city and I’m going back soon.
There were many highlights to my 2012 Burning Man experience. But instead of trying to squeeze all of them in before you cut to commercial I’ll just describe one experience. I knew nothing about it going in. Only that I heard a mother and daughter ask about ‘The Enchanted Forest’ and saw someone else point in a direction.
My friend Kelly and I headed off in the direction the slightly drunk but funny man sent the mother and daughter. All I could really see was a white square 1 story tall and about the size of half a football field. When we got to the building it had an opening like the beginning of a maze. But after one turn you realized it wasn’t a maze. The interior was solidly filled with a field of white ribbons hanging from the top of the structure which had no ceiling. On all sides there was a small wooden deck inviting you to take your shoes off and step into the ribbons. When you walked in, the floor was a faux polar bear fur carpet. We heard someone say it was free range polar bear but I can’t speak to his authority on the matter. When you laid down on the sumptuous carpet the ribbons hung just above your face almost or never exactly touching your nose. (Depending on your nose.) It was completely amazing to be in.
Every worry and outside thought emptied from my mind and I was just in awe at the moment. One of the many places my mind wandered while laying there was that the most wonderful things I’d seen at Burning Man were amazing not just because of what was built but because someone thought about how what they built would interact with the environment to create a full experience.
The sky was pure blue against the white ribbons. When the desert wind was soft or still the ribbons just floated while you laid on that damn amazing carpet. You could see the other people around you but only small peaks. When the wind picked up, the landscape of the carpet opened up and you saw all the people there with you reaching out to the ribbons, hugging and laying on their friends or making out on the furry cloud. And smiling!
The smiles are what I’ll never forget. People caught in the same wonder I was in, all to themselves and revealed for a fleeting moment when the wind blew smiling with their whole face. I can’t remember the last time I’d seen smiles like that on people.
We finally got up and softly walked through the people. As I moved the ribbons in front of me it revealed colorful burners in wild outfits and dust with dazzed eyes and mouthes open in awe.
I had noticed electrical wires hinting at lights so we decided to come back at night. We lost a friend we hoped to meet up with but we went to the Forest anyway. Sure enough it was lit up like Fantasia and just as magical. When we went in and parted the ribbons I ran straight into the friend we lost! In a city of 50,000 people, in a place it would be unlikely to find her if she was 5 feet away, there she was in a Rainbow Bright outfit glowing in the blue light. Needless to say that is a smile I will remember. We all hugged, ‘NO WAY!‘ed, and laid down on each other in the fuzzy cloud and soft light, excited and happy in the Enchanted Desert Forest.
You can find out more about the project at it’s home page under it’s actual name, The Desert Forest.
It’s the day after I got back from Burning Man and I’m still in a bit of a daze having to return to the real world. I was only there for 3 days but I forgot how just that and the prep for survival in the harsh environment far from civilization does some kind of reset where I’m forced to ask myself, ‘What of this really matters?’
I walked around Fillmore today. I saw people carrying bags of expensive clothes, not looking at me or anyone else. I saw a guy being cool and aloof behind mirrored glasses. I went to the grocery store and got the freshest milk because the 1 extra day newer seemed important. I saw bored people standing in line for coffee and getting pissed because someone made a slightly careless move on the street and it was just a different scene than I’ve been in for the last few days.
I’m really not trying to be all high and mighty burner person. I think money is a useful way to trade for goods and services, I waited for fancy coffee, and I know that what happens out at Burning Man wouldn’t work so well in a sustainable society without major modifications. Undoubtedly, a lot of the norms we have in the real world really matter. But I’m glad to have the perspective that things could be different. More than the art and dancing and party of Burning Man what I miss and have to readjust to as I walk down the street is the interactions with people. The welcoming spirit, the belief that we can try something different, and the smiles. That at least I want to hold on to and not fall back to the default.
I just finished watching HBO’s Newsroom pilot, which was great. You can watch the full episode on YouTube. In it an anchor and Executive Producer that recognize that TV news has been softened by pandering to the lowest common denominator and to what is popular. Near the end of the episode the news manager comes in and talks to the jaded anchor,
News Manager: Anchors having an opinion isn’t a new phenomenon. Murrow had one and that was the end of McCarthyism. Cronkite had one and that was the end of Vietnam.
Anchor: I’m not those guys.
News Manager: I’m betting all my money on you’re wrong.
During the entire episode they are building up the idea that the news today is toothless but people are hungry for truth and soon there will be a ‘tipping point’ as the spirited Executive Producer puts it.
“We’re coming to a tipping point. I know you know that. There’s going to be a huge conversation. Is government an instrument of good or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for or is self interest our basic resting pulse. You and I are among the few people who can frame that debate.”
It’s great TV and I’m hooked already but the premise seems outdated. It’s not a news anchor that will bring the next change. We don’t need a ballsy news crew to bring us that message anymore and more importantly, the people in the news aren’t ‘among the few’ that can frame that debate.
Many many more people are helping frame the debate today on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other places on the Internet. How to have the debate on the Internet may need some honing. There isn’t yet a great way to have a useful discourse but there will be. Wikipedia found a way to deliver an enormous amount of information written from a neutral point of view that would have seemed impossible before it was there and as the tipping point gets closer, people will find a way to use connectivity to take control of the message and have a better debate, and be more informed than the medium of TV is capable of.