Does New York Matter? at PSFK Conference New York 2008
PIERS: New York – does it still matter?
FARIS: Good morning. I do a strategy type thing at Naked Communications. I just moved to NY. I think Piers asked me to do this because he thought it would be funny. I’m the conversational lubricant for these people to talk. Occurs to me that subculture is the pattern of human behavior: the symbolic structures around which we define the meaning of those activities. The way NY culture expresses itself to the way in this world – it’s a massive cultural footprint. I moved here partially because of this vague sense of living in a movie, or long episode of Friends. I also get the sense that that movie is set in an idealized version of the 70’s, NY of Taxi Driver and graffiti and block parties. That’s the setting for popular understanding of NY. Does NY still matter? And what does that mean and how does it describe people like us who choose to live here. People very distinguished in this field.
DOUG: Doug Jegar, we get creative professionals to become performers of their own craft, live in front of an audience. I did an event Tuesday night, took 3 photographers or storytellers, and told a story in a mosaic. Everyone came as grandmas. It was a party, out in Dumbo. I told everyone about it 3 hours before by text messaging. People came, drank water and alcohol and beer. They gave it to us and helped pay for the party. Created a place for lots of consumers to take pictures and regurgitate it and share it the next day.
SASCHA: Sascha, co-founder of Politico, on line culture guide. We filter culture; curate is a nice way of saying it: a short list of things to do in New York. We become the friend to know for people who want to explore the city, have a valuable city while they live in this crazy place called NY.
JEN: Jen co-founded Gothamist. I come from an advertising background. Still do some consulting. Though it was interesting to have a blog about the city to communicate with my peers and family about what was making the city interesting. We curate the cultural events that are happening; things like Happy Corp are creating.
STEVE: Steve from Thrillist. We curate, all on a newsletter, operate in various cities, most restaurant openings, bars, services.
FARIS: I should kick things off in my role as moderator. Trying to decide what t-shirt to wear, try to make them contextually relevant. Got a suggestion, t-shirt slogan says, NY: greatest country in the world. Why is it different to the rest of America?
JEN: Very different from this and other countries because there’s always been this melting pot and idea of the American dream. 9/FLORIAN: Aside, always been a drive to be successful. It’s also the media capital of the US if not the world. Whether or not NY is diminishing in other respects because of the economy or internet gives other people in nonurban areas just as big a chance to share their ideas, NYC is still going to have this powerful pulse to just keep coming here.
FARIS: Without wanting to cliché, there’s a lot of things like the NY minute and NY state of mind. What does that mean?
DOUG: A lot of people want to be the best at what they’re doing. Work we’re doing with design and fashion, a lot of people are coming here to get exposure. You can find people willing to take chances that people who want to be here would also take in other markets. We recruit interns and find kids who would do almost anything to work at a company like ours. What’s great about NY is that there’s so much potential. Such a quantity in such a small amount of space, it’s a sorting of people. You’re making it easy for the right people to find the right stuff. For our parties we decided let’s not tell people where the party is so there’s no line outside. We use technology, fill it up in advance. Tell no one to show up and you have a great party.
SASCHA: It’s fascinating to see how NY – I’m a native – been here for 3+ decades. Certainly the 70’s has the truest allure of NY, exciting, edgy. There is still is that mythology around NY. Out of the country people still think it’s graffiti filled streets, going to get mugged every turn you take. The city’s changed; it’s a natural progression of a city that is this dynamic. It’s the one place that everyone compares themselves to. Almost apologetic, we’re like NY because we’re Berlin. Wow, we’re not NY but we’re London. With the melting pot, people we draw in, everyone is a self starter, believing they can be the best at something. It creates an ecosystem that is incomparable to other cities. Now it is a little stale, a little flat. We’re fighting the good fight to make it relevant. But culturally it isn’t the 70’s or 80’s or even the 90’s in terms of things starting here or evolving as trends, cultural movements. That’s taking place in other cities more than NY. Still we are the focal point for so much that people consider modern day culture.
STEVE: I agree with all that. Everyone has the idea of America, idea of a free state. NY is a distillation of that idea. It is the myth, the story we keep telling ourselves about ourselves. Does NY matter? It’s really asking: “do we matter?” This existential dilemma.
FARIS: NY’s always been a cultural hodgepodge, synthesized. Previously really important things were generated here – hip hop, things that spread across the whole world: an aspect of America’s cultural imperialism. Is it now doing the same thing, resonating on a global scale? Music form that is distinctly New Yorkian? Flip side – the biggest metropolis, dominant position because of its size. Now the weight is shifting. The megalopolises are in other parts of the world. The balance is shifting.
DOUG: We do the architect stool, take them as people to put on stage, have them make models live on stage almost like musicians. Make models out of cheese or plastic straws. Recently we found in Australia, they call theirs Arch Idol. They took photos from our first event, 2005, they credited us. So something started here and landed in another place. Also Cut and Paste, another design competition. It went around the world to Japan and Hong Kong and CA, still in the US but far away for us. The internet has changed NY. Doesn’t mean people don’t like coming here – especially with the dollar. I think things get to start here.
SASCHA: I think NY has probably lost its stronghold as the superpower of cities. The game has changed. We know that form the web and economic structure of the world. The culture created in the urban landscape. Yet there’s things popping out of other cities that 30 years ago might have come from NY. Hip hop is probably the last great Cultural Revolution to come from NY. Not sure we’ll see something like that again from a single place. Something like a music genre will spread so quickly. It’s not going to start in Queens or Brooklyn, it’ll be: “did it start in NY or LA or Berlin or Paris?” It’s a lot of pressure to be the place where all things begin. It’s important that other places become cultural focal points as well. It’s exciting to be able to see that in different cities. Hip hop is a great example. Its origins are in NY. If you think about what it means to the world, it’s probably the single most significant cultural happening in the last 20 or 25 years. It’s global, you go to Tokyo or Paris or Berlin – they’re more into hip hop than we are. Now we can look in other place to find culture. There’s a natural diverse devolvement.
JEN: We can be inspired by other cultures in other countries. Because we’re the largest city in the country, a lot of them will come here, perform live. Or we see it on line and know we should be seeking it out. We should have other initiatives to spur that kind of artistic development.
STEVE: One thing that NY seems to be really good at is spectacle and size of groups. Started flash mobs and goes on to Grand Central. Everyone freezes for 5 minutes and freaks the tourists out. Easy to create spectacle. We’ve become a cultural arbiter not through grass roots like hip hop, but small large scale productions. Last year I did a large video presentation. It was getting people together in a room, send out to blogs, and becomes replicated, and an overused term, viral.
FARIS: Perfect question. That’s interesting about how technology flattens things. How it’s incorporated into what was previously an analog culture. Went to a gig, if you wanted the tracks you could download on mp3 the thing that was playing on stage. Technology is spreading messaging and becoming a focal point like Weembledon. How is technology changing in NY?
DOUG: People are more likely to stay in front of the computer than every because it’s a book that is never ending. You can put anything on that screen. I try to get people to socialize. That’s the effort we all want, to make the things outside our homes more interesting than the screens. We don’t want to blog too much. Give them addresses to go to, don’t tell them too much. But it is frightening. Saw in the cab this morning that from 2004-2006, 17% increase in obesity, attributed to fat in food. I think it’s the internet. Someone’s gotta invent the blow desk peddler to power the screen. But technology is the enemy in terms of getting people to do things. New Yorkers are classically thin and beautiful people and it’s not that way anymore. This room’s good. Technology is an enemy and a friend. Dogma is a friend, but at the same time, wouldn’t it be great to see that in the street.
JEN: We try to encourage readers to send us things that happen in their neighborhood. It’s hard to do it myself, but I want to run down and share it with people. I’m in the role of wanting to share it and be part of that event. That’s the greatest challenge. People can live through these events by seeing these events on Twitter. I hope that when people read about different events, they’re encouraged to go out and do that, whether to participate or go to rally to participate in something you believe in. New Yorkers are great at letting people know about these things, but need to participate more in some areas.
SASCHA: The live experience – I’d like to believe people are gonna go and download that track. I very rarely see an execution that has a penetration more than what the super geek might – technology is the enabler for the information so you can make a good choice or find out what likeminded people are doing and involved in, and then make a decision to participate. One of our goals at Flavor Pill is to get people away from the screen and experience culture. Why live in NY if not to participate in the culture that’s here on a constant basis.
FARIS: Are you reflecting or creating what’s happening by talking about it?
STEVE: We were saying earlier, it’s in the anthropological sense of the term; you can’t observe a society or individuals without changing their behavior. We can change what’s happening when we cover it just by raising inter-relief events, aggregate more talk to it, like leeches on a wharf.
JEN: It’s not an either or thing. By raising attention, helping people learn more and be a part of it, you’re encouraging likeminded people to do that. We’re having a pizza party where the chef is going to have a demonstration, drink and have a good time.
FARIS: I’m talking about sub cultures, amplifying those into larger scale thing. As a corollary of that, what the hell are hipsters? Do they matter?
DOUG: Hipsters. It’s interesting, generally people who are from Williamsburg, intentionally trying to look different in some way. I think it’s a word people use when they don’t understand something. Even the way you introduced it. It’s like a loaded gun.
FARIS: IT’s derogatory and it’s not.
JEN: I think it’s derogatory at this point. It Represents the new wave of New Yorkers moving into the more gentrified neighborhoods, might be more fashion conscious, interested in cool music rated highly on Pitchfork. For better or worse, it’s easy to say that’s why the city might be dying.
DOUG: The word came out when friendster died. They stopped using hippies.
STEVE: Any has seen The Berg? It’s a great show about hipsters. Pseudo band discovered by real critic. They videotape and broadcast 3 shows a week on Mondays. The term of hipster, wasn’t it a 30’s or 40’s thing. It’s always used to characterize that cohort of people who are demarcated based on style and cultural affinity. It’s so metastasized in NY. People in PR are calling me a hipster. I’m so not a hipster.
DOUG: You are though.
JEN: Preppy handbook – defined so many people. Someone wrote the Hipster Handbook, defining that Williamsburg resident.
SASCHA: You had hip hop heads. Now you have hipsters. You’ve got the web, downloadable shows focused on talking about things like Williamsburg where all things culturally relevant or not are coming out. It takes these ideas of culture to a new level.
JEN: Gives NY media stories to write about.
FARIS: The Tipping Point and that style of thinking – in terms of an easy segmentation – let’s give so hipsters some stuff and let it propagate our ideas of culture. Went to a talk by a network scientist, said that’s not possible. Don’t have scope of the systems of cultures, that disproportionate effect. Let’s just see some hipsters and that’ll make things easier for us. One last question. I’m new here and want something to do. What’s the one thing I should be thinking of doing?
DOUG: I don’t’ run a publication that does that, but Sacha does. What these guys have been doing, Flavor Pill has been working with museums, because they have an audience that’s been getting older and older. They’ve been throwing parties in museums. The Guggenheim started at the Cooper Hewitt. Now they’re seeing out shows at the Museum of Natural History. Having a party Friday night with good talent. It’s sold out.
JEN: I would encourage everyone to go to some city agency and get a tour of City Hall, the Transit Museum, film and other music. Go to the Tribeca Film Festival. The agency has a lot to offer in terms of the city you’re living in and working in. People brought together in a very low cost way.
STEVE: I spend a lot of time writing about new restaurants. Shall I give a restaurant recommendation? There’s this place, Broadway East, on the F stop, coolest place I’ve seen in forever. They have a little bar at the bottom, with a DJ with a catacomb that goes to the ba