Monday, March 15, 1999

SXSW Architects Online and Offline _ Inspiration

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mark Pesce was ruffling some features in his presentation "Black and White and Read All Over: Post-Test Post-Haste." As he spoke a large screen featured the word "Black" typed in white and "White" in black on a red background while they faded horizontally and vertically. Some of his controversial tidbits for the day were "Apple hasn't had a unique idea since '78 and IBM since '82." He told us about two brilliant architects whose work reveal revolutionary integrated thinking. He thinks architects are the most left-brained artists and what he loves about what they do is that they create the WHOLE work. If you take away one piece of their work, the whole thing can fall apart. He sees this as a way the web must be thought of, as a fully integrated unit, not separate elements.

The first architect he mentioned was Michael Graves in Silicon Valley, who designed a steel cloud that extends between two highways in LA. There are steel fishes and an aquarium integrated throughout the design and the beauty of it is that it is meant to be viewed at 50 mph. Then he told us about Hani Rashid, who started the Computer Lab at Columbia's Architecture School. Rashid created a meta-management system the New York Stock Exchange requested in a complaint that they were losing people, all the IPOs were going to NASDAQ and they weren't as "cool." Done entirely in VRML, he created a room where data is projected streaming by on the walls. If a broker wanted to find out more, they would just pick up a pair of binoculars and interact with the data.

Pesce likes that the web is becoming more personal and believes it needs to be so much more than just text, hypertext, ASCII and links. The web isn't about text at all -- "I think we got confused" -- there're other languages out there: body language, sign language, etc. "Where is the music?," Mark asks. Sound should be integral to the medium (with the exception of hearing your machine furiously whir as you push it to the max!). "It's too quiet!" To which Tristan Mendoza, a multimedia-jack-of-all-trades at the University of Texas, and a few others in the back muttered "I don't want my computer making noises!" Pesce feels it needs to be more tangible, sensual (visually lush, 3D, musical) and kinetic (thinking and interacting) with our bodies -- not just an experience of typing into a computer. How archaic! These problems aren't technical problems however, he sees them as ones that designers must solve. And he doesn't want to see these challenges left to the self-styled designers, either. Otherwise you're signing your consciousness over to them and very soon cyberspace will look like the insides of our heads. Huh? Well, more than one of Pesce's comments elicited responses from the audience and when Paco Xander Nathan, president and editor (and Austin's Alternative Guru) of Fringeware announced we had to end, questions still hung in the air.

Afterwards I went up to Paco, who I'd heard about the night before from a few people who touted his hipness, connected-ness and ultimately hip community-generating role in Austin. Paco founded Fringeware, an on-line and physical bookstore in 1992, edits "Fringeware Review" magazine, writes for various new-age tech tomes and has cyber salons in town. He's been involved in the Internet since 1983 and has a background in engineering. Every week he hosts an event in his bookstore--either an author, artist, DJ or other content-maker/producer comes to speak and people come to engage, conflict, collaborate. Paco gave me some great insight into his salons and others occurring around the country. I got a chance to see it all in action later that night at his big party for SXSW.