Empty Pockets

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995) by Nam June Paik

Historically, many of the most interesting and important writers have tended to carve out insular, informal pockets of autonomous cultural activity from which they could birth something larger. These pockets would shield members from the immediate pressures of the marketplace, but productively expose them to the meritocratic pressures of the group.

Eventually, a critical mass of original and worthy energy bubbles over and makes itself known to the public. How could it not?

Samuel Johnson had his club.

Virginia Woolf had Bloomsbury.

William James had The Metaphysical Club.

Burroughs had Kerouac and Ginsberg.

Many such cases.

Today, it's much harder to create social spaces insulated from market conformism simply because the market is now in our pocket. The market for ideas is now digital, social, and instantaneous, so there is no dinner party in the world at which the market is not a guest. Too often it is the guest of honor. Thus, one of the classic social technologies for the fomenting of independent, high culture is broken.

It's not unsalvageable, though, it just requires some care and ingenuity. What was once done somewhat naturally by idiosyncratic bibliophiles who had no other options, must now be done thoughtfully by idiosyncratic bibliophiles who have an abundance of easier options.

Make friends carefully. Spend your time wisely. Focus on originality and excellence within a group. Don’t calculate. Play small games. Construct situations.