I have become a little obsessed with taking pictures from plane windows every time I travel. Back in the day, my dad used to take a lot of photographs from airplanes when he would travel too. His attempts to grasp these subjective bits of the objective world – to understand the scope of the world by patches of its terrain and bring them home to show us – are fascinating to me now as I find myself doing the same thing. When flying at night, the lights of a city exude its subjectivity – how a citizenry arranges objects, their roads, fields and cottages or highways, bridges and skyscrapers speak to the subjective vision of the individuals that created these objective places.
I am a journalist, and I am also an artist. My visual medium is photography, but most of the work I’ve shown is conceptual. My first presentation was in a group show in 2012 at Manhattan’s Peanut Underground Gallery for their project “The All Night Bookstore.” I showed a piece called “Pay it Forward” on which I collaborated with the artist and technologist Paul Garrin. It was a conceptual project that involved storytelling, photography and performance in that we connected his service, Wifi NY, which provides unmediated local internet access over the open public spectrum airwaves, from his Lower East Side node all the way across the East River out to the Jefferson L train stop in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Luckily we found an angle where no tall buildings blocked us and I held up above my head the satellite node to connect a huge warehouse of artist lofts to the node in Manhattan without anyone but us knowing about it. The concept was pushing forward the unmediated connection. The writing is the story of how we came to know each other, which is in the vein of my subjective writing here on Brooklyn The Borough.
Like that wifi wave traveling between nodes, I see humanity as a super organism that operates in tandem with the universe, with fluidity between natural beings, space and time. The subjective experiences of each person in a community, or even on earth, can in theory be amassed to create an objective story of this connective tissue of humanity – if we could process so much information. It might be something of the cultural or ideological equivalent to infinity. Eventually the internet will get us there, but for now we are balkanized, broken down into the subjective fractals of the super-consciousness that make up our human digital hivemind.
When we pull back the lens far enough from the overload of information we cram into our brains everyday and think about where we’re heading with media, we know pretty intuitively, whether this system is working out for you financially or not, that it’s not going towards a positive place for social relations or staying informed. Some people are fatalistic in the sense that they feel no personal responsibility to change that because whatever is happening now is inevitable. Rather, the responsibility they feel is to pay their bills. Who is to judge, right? Well, me, I guess. I think now is the time to build the world we want to see, not capitulate to the pressures of what came before us.
The digital solutionism that has been born of Silicon Valley and Wall Street works to amass centralized economically incentivized information streams. This imposes the concept of scarcity of space, and therefor, information – a predominant factor of mass media in the analog past – onto the framework of the digital age, which has an abundance of space and information. The industrial production model solved the problem of creating cheap quantities of products. In media, it has meant the ability to infinitely produce pages to rack up dollars. That goal ruins how media is created by changing the goal of the page, and ultimately the entire digital space, from news to advertising, whether that content was written by a journalist or not. News needs to update its models for delivery of knowledge, not just distribution of information. Creating new value by building organic media, and creating social capital on the internet will inevitably sustain the financial capital necessary, if we rethink how and why we are publishing on the internet.
I think there is a synchronicity problem with the way we are building objectivist information networks: each of our actions is broken down into numerically quantifiable and financially incentivized moves with regard to only the economic value, without consideration for the subjective social and environmental experience – our love, volunteerism, gratitude and gifts to and from each other, our space and connectivity. Consider information can also be an act of sharing, of love, and sometimes it is withheld.
It’s like how we wonder why the hoverboard has not been invented yet – it’s because we are still thinking too much about wheel technology when we should be thinking about complex physics. But! Don’t despair over fake breakthroughs on the hoverboard front.
Sophie Spinelle, a local photographer I met and covered a few years ago who runs a local studio called Shameless Photography recently wrote to me about how being featured on this site has changed her business.
“I wanted to thank you again for the fantastic article and video you published about Shameless back in 2010. I was a fledgling photographer when you did that story, and the exposure I received through Brooklyn the Borough was part of what helped my studio survive, thrive, and grow. Thank you — really. We’re now 3 photographers strong, and we have an explicitly body-positive mission to help our clients/models of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and abilities see themselves in a new way through their photo shoots. I feel so grateful to be doing this work.”
This is what the triple bottom line model looks like, it accounts for not just the economic needs of sustaining our organization, but also the social and ecological ones of the people and larger community that enables it to exist. After apprenticing here, many of our student interns have gone on to good jobs in the media world. Many bands booked shows with us and built early audiences on these pages before the news of their awesomeness caught on. Other media ignore the emerging stories because they won’t instantly rack up pageviews through clickbait because nobody has ever heard of people like Sophie who run independent businesses in Brooklyn or bands that are not already known. When Sophie emailed to invite me to her studio I jumped at the opportunity to share her story in this space, because I knew it would be valuable to our community. Unless pageview media thinks they can exploit businesses or artists for more pageviews, they won’t cover it, creating a cycle of the same echo chamber content that reverberates across every publisher.
I do not see a future where publishers may continue to seek financial profit as their only goal or pageviews as their only validation or goal for distributing information. Within the goals of the institution must also exist responsibility, morality, benevolence, self-reliance, self-expression, kindness, gratitude, gifting, care for ones community, relationships and environment. Not just increasing pageviews, aggregating and scaling up an alienated audience so shareholders can bring in the dividends. More than shareholders, media needs stakeholders who value self-expression, transparency and truth.
I became a fully formed human thanks to my many independent artistic mentors, small business employers and direct participation in grassroots, DIY art, music and activism in New York City, doing journalism and forming rudimentary digital communities and independent artistic commerce, building from the ground up. I know that a decent digital connection, seeing yourself represented, and quality information can mean everything to finding community and forming the human you want to be, especially when it’s outside of the bounds of what everyone around you is doing. I know that the internet I experienced in this regard is fading away into a new and very judgmental and numerically quantifiable one where complexity gets lost, and the implications of that, it seems, are yet to be fully realized.
This is all to say, even better than, “don’t be evil,” how about we “just be good.” The former is so close to a double negative in presentation, in practice it seems to negate its own meaning.