Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wired to the Old

The Wired pop-up store has popped up again this holiday season, this time in the former Tower Records space on 4th and Broadway, that unloved cavern left largely empty for the past several years. It's a notable juxtaposition--three floors of tech fetishism celebrating the future in a place that once sold records and tapes, a place undone by the iTune.

This juxtaposition was present everywhere at the Wired store. The faux-stalgic melding of old and new appeared again and again.

A portable cassette tape player is not as it appears. It's really an MP3 player featuring "a design that mirrors a retro cassette tape player—without the tape!"

You can also get a faux-notebook, "bound with traditional bookbindery techniques" and hollowed out to accommodate your iPhone. Its paper-free wooden casing will make you feel artisanally correct.

For those who miss analog telephones and their superior, intimate sound quality--or for those who just think missing the analog is hip--there's the POP Phone in a rainbow of color. You plug it into your cell phone or computer and yap away. With all the recent findings about cell phones and brain cancer, think we'll ever see these babies on the streets?

If you long for the olden days when you carried a boombox on your shoulder, sharing your music with every passerby, then the Personal Soundtrack Shirt is for you. With a speaker embedded in the fabric, you can blast your digital tunes everywhere you go.

Finally, my personal favorite, the Antique USB Typewriter. They connect to your computer, just like a keyboard, and they're made by a guy named Jack Zylkin, who describes them as "a groundbreaking advancement in the field of obsolescence."

I look at all of these products in part mockingly and also wonderingly, curious to understand what the trend is all about. Are people longing to incorporate the old into the new because the future is coming faster and faster, too fast to tolerate? Is the act of inserting an iPhone into a book a performance of dominance, the New dancing on the corpse of the Old? It likely has different meanings and purposes for different people.

Still, I can imagine in some future, when all the books have been destroyed, when I am forced without a choice to read on some glossy Pad, and every sign of our old lives has been cast away, that I will huddle to these artifacts for solace, pretending in the hollow of a faux-book that not everything is made of plastic and toxic radiation. Pretending that my fellow humans did not, with their wallets, choose to kill off the tangible completely.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sidewalk Sitters

Something I've noticed over the past 5-7 years, or thereabouts, since the hyper-gentrification of everything went into full swing, is the increasing habit of non-homeless people to park their backsides on the sidewalks and curbs of the city.

At first, it would startle me. I'd see them at a glance, assume "homeless," and then get up closer and have to do a double-take. She's not asking for change with that Starbucks cup.

And it's not just that these sidewalk sitters are non-homeless people. I'm not talking about a bunch of skateboard kids or punks "chillin'" on the dirty curb. The people I'm talking about are largely middle and upper-middle class "regular" folks. It's the tourists and Juicy Couture shoppers. It's moms from Ohio.

They sit to make phone calls and write text messages.

They relax on the curb to have deep, intimate talks.

They plop down with their soy mocha lattes.

They sprawl out with their shopping bags.

They read maps and drink Snapple.

They place plastic containers of snacks on the curb next to them and indulge in a little street munching.

They spread their legs, enjoy their iced coffee, and send their digital missives.

They collapse en masse, with a group of pals, and shoot the breeze while leaning against a lamp post or a mailbox, or with their sandaled feet in the gutter. As if nobody ever pisses or pukes there. As if nobody's dog ever took a shit in that exact spot, and no toxic liquids flow through that green stream.

And you know what it is. It's the assumption of sterility. All those shiny boxes, those condos and newsstands made of glass, all that Bloombergian glitter makes people think everything in New York is clean, so the sidewalks must be too. Clean enough to eat off?

It's a minor complaint, perhaps a petty one, but something about it just bugs me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Your Brain on the Net

Is your brain spending too much time wired? If you've got $4.95 and about 90 minutes of free time, watch this video from the New Yorker Festival: Your Brain on the Internet.

Panelists Nicholson Baker, Elizabeth Phelps, Jaron Lanier, and Jonah Lehrer have interesting things to say about the importance of daydreaming, the hazards of multitasking, the venom in online anonymity, and the day when only rich people will have good cognition.

Choice quote from Lanier: If Facebook had been around years ago, "You could never have had a Bob Dylan because his high-school page would have dogged him in Greenwich Village and he'd have still been 'the Zimmerman kid,' and it would've been terrible... I don't think you can grow up and invent yourself without a little bit of subterfuge."

Panelist Info:
Nicholson Baker
Elizabeth Phelps
Jaron Lanier
Jonah Lehrer