New York and the Internet

An op-ed in The New York Times compares going on line to moving to New York. For many young people who cannot afford to go to New York the internet does offer many similar advantages for “young aspirants to the creative class.”

…another destination beckons, a place that courses with all the raw ambition and creative energy that the hard times seem to have drained from New York. I am referring, of course, to the Internet, which over the past decade has slowly become the de facto heart of American culture: the public space in which our most influential conversations transpire, in which our new celebrities are discovered and touted, in which fans are won and careers made.

Wherever young creatives physically reside today, in their endeavors they are increasingly moving online: posting their photos, writing, videos and music, building a “presence” in the hope of winning an audience. Monetary rewards on the Internet are still scarce, it is true, but the cost of living is cheap and, more important, the opportunities for attention are plentiful. Every month more YouTube sensations emerge, more bloggers ink big book deals, more bands blow up through music Web sites and MySpace, and every day more young people seek their “big break” in the virtual megalopolis rather than in (or as well as in) the physical one.

The experience of moving online actually bears quite a few similarities to becoming a New Yorker. Disorienting and seemingly endless, the Internet conversation moves at lightning speed and according to unstated social rules that can bewilder outsiders. Also, like New Yorkers, residents of the Internet do not suffer fools, or mince words in belittling them, as anyone who has contributed a redundant post to Metafilter, or an earnest comment to Gawker, can attest.

In their scope, both the Internet and New York are profoundly humbling: young people accustomed to feeling special about their gifts are inevitably jarred, upon arrival, to discover just how many others are trying to do precisely the same, with equal or greater success. (For a vivid demonstration of this online, try to invent a play on words, and then Google it. You’ll be convinced that there is, in fact, “nothing new in the cloud” — a joke that a British I.B.M. employee beat me to last November.)

Moreover, the presence of an audience causes online residents to style themselves as outsized personae, as characters on a public stage. On the Internet, as in creative New York, everyone can possess a tiny measure of celebrity, and everyone pays attention to what everyone else is doing, all the time.

Boathouse July 2008

Despite all the similarities, going on line is just not the same as being in New York. For example, you cannot walk thorugh Central Park, stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a drink at the Boathouse while “living” on the internet.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
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