Hypothetical Development Organization reception in N.O.

“Implausible Futures For Unpopular Places”
Gallery Du Mois, 4921 Freret St., New Orleans
April 7 – May 7, 2011
Opening reception April 9

The project seems to pose the question: If we can dream this big on paper, then what else could happen?

–Mimi Zeiger, Design Observer: Places

The Hypothetical Development Organization presents a new form of urban storytelling — what Bruce Sterling calls “architecture fiction.”

Borrowing the form of the traditional real-estate development sign, H.D.O and its contributing artists devise and depict engaging, provocative, amusing, and above all implausible future uses for neglected-looking properties. Ten of these unlikely notions — The Museum of the Self, The Loitering Centre, the SnoozerDome, The Radtke Reading Room, Karmalot, and more — have appeared on 3’X5′ signs around New Orleans.

See all of them at Du Mois — plus two new, never-before-seen Hypothetical Developments.

Works by John Becker, Candy Chang, Mark Clayton, Carey Clouse, Michael Doyle, Mauricio Espinosa, Christina Hilliard, Kirsten Hively, Nicole Lavelle, Sergio Humberto Padilla, Dave Pinter, Lauren Stewart, Meg Turner, and the SVA Masters in Branding Class of 2011

Project founders G.K. Darby, Ellen Susan, and Rob Walker will be on hand at the opening, along with several of our contributing artists. Facebook Event page here: http://on.fb.me/HypoDevReception

As seen in Boing Boing: “Hypothetical Development Organization’s real estate fictions.” Good: “Fake Realtors Imagine Artistic Uses for Neglected Buildings.” NOLA Defender: “City of Memes.”  And more: from PSFK, Swiss Miss, Core 77, Design Observer, Good Magazine, Josh Spear, Aesthetics of Joy, Archetizer, Huffington Post, Coudal.com, HiLobrow, Unbeige, Bookslut, The Architects Newspaper Blog.

“This must be the closest thing to an architecture-fiction ‘pure play’ to have yet appeared.” — Bruce Sterling

Images of renderings and installations here and here.

In The New York Times Magazine: Ghosts In The Machine

I’ve mentioned this everywhere else, so may as well note it here: I have a cover story for the Times Magazine this coming Sunday about “digital legacy.”

Suppose that just after you finish reading this article, you keel over, dead. Perhaps you’re ready for such an eventuality, in that you have prepared a will or made some sort of arrangement for the fate of the worldly goods you leave behind: financial assets, personal effects, belongings likely to have sentimental value to others and artifacts of your life like photographs, journals, letters. Even if you haven’t made such arrangements, all of this will get sorted one way or another, maybe in line with what you would have wanted, and maybe not.

But many of us, in these worst of circumstances, would also leave behind things that exist outside of those familiar categories. Suppose you blogged or tweeted about this article, or dashed off a Facebook status update, or uploaded a few snapshots from your iPhone to Flickr, and then logged off this mortal coil. It’s now taken for granted that the things we do online are reflections of who we are or announcements of who we wish to be. So what happens to this version of you that you’ve built with bits? Who will have access to which parts of it, and for how long?

The story is online now. It’s pretty long.

In Fast Company: The unlikely success of BoingBoing

We know what happens next: This hobby morphs into a successful business. But Boing Boing’s version of that tale is a little different. Frauenfelder and his partners didn’t rake in investment capital, recruit a big staff and a hotshot CEO, or otherwise attempt to leverage themselves into a “real” media company. They didn’t even rent an office. They continued to treat their site as a side project, even as it became a business with revenue comfortably in the seven figures. Basically, they declined to professionalize. You could say they refused to grow up.

The full story is in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Fast Company, or here.

On The Awl: Willlow Palin’s Time Is Ripe

I wrote a little thing about the Sarah Palin Show, published by The Awl, here. (“There is one element of the show that is potentially not-boring: Keep your eye on Willow Palin.)


Here’s me interviewed by Paola Antonelli of MoMa. (Update: I’m tickled, yes tickled, to see Bruce Sterling’s link: “This is truly a provocative, orthogonal, and erudite conversation. I consider myself quite up to speed in matters of this kind, but the people in this discussion constitute a global elite of two.”)

Here’s Unbeige on Hypothetical Developments. Here’s Alissa “no relation”  Walker of Good interviewing me about that as well. And here’s someone writing up that very same project on the Huffington Post.

If you think Hypothetical Development sounds like a neat idea, then donate so we can make it happen.

Support the Hypothetical Development project!

With collaborators Ellen Susan and G.K. Darby, I’ve launched a new side project: Signage depicting imaginary building uses in New Orleans.

In a nutshell: We’ve identified a number of buildings around New Orleans that appear neglected and seem to have no future. We have devised imaginary future uses (The Museum of the Self, The Loitering Centre, etc.), and are illustrating those and printing onto 3’X5′ signage. These are meant to be “displayed” on the buildings (starting in December), and later in a gallery show (probably in April) in New Orleans. It’s a comment about “future use” advertisements in the down economy; it’s a new form of storytelling; and it’s fun.

We’re raising money to print the signs on Kickstarter and made what I think is a not-bad promotional video there. In addition to the Kickstarter pitch there’s a further explanation here. Your support is much appreciated; a lot of people have volunteered a lot of time to get it this far, and I truly believe that if we pull it off, it will be delightful. I hope you will take a look. Thanks.

iPad owners who are fans of business-oriented fact-based comix: Take note!

Titans of Finance, my collaboration with artist Josh Neufeld, first published as a comic book back in 2001 (and evidently now very rare in the original analog version) is now available for the iPad!

At least that’s what I’ve been told. I don’t have an iPad, and I’m not even certain what I should link to.

But if you have an iPad, and would like to spend for $4 to enjoy this collection of factual comix tales of money and greed, then visit the, uh, iPad bookstore? Or whatever? And look for Titans of Finance. And then buy it. Or even if you don’t buy it, let me know that you found it, and maybe if you have a suggestion as to what sort of link I should provide.

This unlikely turn of events is thanks to the efforts of Garrett County Press.


(Related: Can the iPad save Spider Man?)

Further amusement

Click it.

Recent feedback suggests I have not made this clear, so let me try again:

I’m not updating this site so much lately (though still sometimes, weekly at a minium) but I do post regularly, and quite a lot,  at (among other places):


The riot of delightful “content” there is suggested by the image above.



The latter also features posts by my fascinator-collaborators. Great stuff. Again, I’ve provided a visual sampler, below. Check it out.

Click it.

Where Were You? on The Book Bike!

Click to read about Book Bike

Gabriel Levinson, a friend of this site, a contributor to Significant Objects, and the guy doing The Book Bike (mentioned earlier), got a nice writeup in Time Out Chicago the other day. He’s giving out indie-press books and zines this year. The Time Out piece ran with the picture above.

If you squint very closely — see those zines facing outward in the rack front and center? Those are past issues of Where Were You?, donated by me! I’m famous!

Anyway, support Mr. Levinson’s project by donating a few bucks here.

And read/download the latest issue of Where Were You?, which is now an e-zine, here or here.

What’s in the Jan/Feb issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology?

Well, funny you should ask! It’s a special issue on sustainable consumption and production, and there’s a review by me of an interesting book called Shopping Our Way to Safety, by Andrew Szasz, who makes great points about what he calls “inverted quarantine” — basically the (futile, he argues convincingly) idea that we can insulate ourselves from various ecological problems simply through individual consumption habits. I think you can read the review here.

To my surprise, the issue also includes a nice review of Buying In.

I haven’t yet read any of the articles, but much of the issue looks promising. The introduction provides a kind of roadmap to what else is included.


This site was quiet the last couple of days because I was out of town, attending ROFLCon. If you’re not familiar with this event, it’s devoted to Internet memes, Internet celebrity, weird online culture & phenomena, etc. The guest list here.

I’m not big on conferences, but obviously this one is … unusual. And I had a great time. Among other things I got to meet a couple of people I’ve written about in the past. One was imaginary brand impresario Pete Hottelet, who has the coolest business card I’ve ever seen, and who in general turned out to be a really nice, smart, and fascinating guy. I interviewed him via phone a while back in a column about Brawndo; he’s now also putting out the real-world version of Tru Blood, and will soon release another defictionalized product that I’ll write up here later. The other was Jef Sewell, one of the founders of Despair.com (I wrote about that here), who had some really great stuff to show off, including the company’s lavish new edition of Charles Ponzi’s memoir.It looks rather impressive; I think Sewell and his brother Justin have one of the most interesting businesses around.

I also got to meet a bunch of people I’ve interviewed for stuff that’s forthcoming, plus see some old friends, meet some new friends, and so on. There were several really good panels, and I have one or two thoughts from those that I’ll try to articulate here soon.

Anyway I also had one really weird moment, which I guess isn’t too surprising at this sort of event. Everybody had lanyard name tags on and of course mine said “New York Times” on it, because, you know, even though I’m not on staff, that’s my main client or venue or whatever you want to call it. I usually don’t think about this very much, but as I was leaving one panel, a young woman walking past me as she exited looked at my name tag and blurted out an incredulous: “Seriously?? You write for The New York Times?”

She sounded sort of appalled, or maybe alarmed, and possibly just a little bit hostile.

I had no idea what to say. Partly because I wasn’t sure what she meant. Was there something really unlikely about me, as a physical human being, writing for the Times? Or did her incredulity have to do with the idea that someone from The Times might be attending this event? If the latter, was she appalled that The Times would devote attention to stuff that’s so silly/weird/obscure? Or was it more like, “Oh what a bummer that the Times is here to ruin our cool subculture”?  Again: I didn’t know what to say. Of course I’ve already written about several of the guests here, and I’ve interviewed many others. I’m sure the Times in general has covered many others. Basically I was so startled, but her tone more than anything, that I just stood there, mute.

And she kept walking. So that was that.


Where Were You? 2009: Now available — for free!

FEATURING: Life, Death, More of the Same.

As some of you know, Where Were You? is a side project of mine that dates back many years: I note “where I was” when I learned of various notable deaths, and record any related thoughts. For the last few years, I have collected these entries into annual zines. For 2009, instead of printing and mailing physical zines, I’m making a year of entries available as a sort of e-zine.

Also, instead of charging a buck or two, I’m making it available for free.

I have had great help and encouragement on this enterprise from Mr. Harold Check. In fact, I can safely say that without his efforts, technical and otherwise, there is no way I would have collected this year’s entries in any public form.

We’ve used two fine ebook services to present WWY2009. The Scribd version includes some illustrations. The Feedbooks  version does not.

You don’t have to have a special e-reader device to make use of these services and get to this material — in fact, it’s easy to print it out if you like.

Early adopters are welcome.

Here is how to get Where Were You? 2009 — whether you use an ebook reader or not:

1. If you use a Kindle or an iPad (or probably any ebook reader, so far as I know): Download from Feedbooks, or Scribd.

2. If you use a reader app on your iPhone (such as the Kindle app or Stanza, a good free reader app that you can obtain here): Download from Feedbooks or Scribd. I assume most readers on most smartphones work easily with Feedbooks or Scribd documents, but let me know if you have trouble.

3. If (like me!) you don’t use any of that stuff, and you are happy to read it in the form of a PDF on your computer, or as a regular printout, Scribd is probably for you. Check out the “full-screen” book view for the complete retro zine experience. (And if you download it as a PDF, it seems this site will reorder the pages for booklet printing, should you wish to go that way: http://bookletcreator.com/.)

Thoughtful people have enjoyed past editions of WWY.

Also of course if you have questions or comments or run into problems with the above, your feedback is more than welcome.

I hope you’ll check out the 2009 edition — and help spread the word.

Thanks. Read more

Guest-editing on Coudal.com

I am doing that, this month. If you miss the old linkpiles, maybe you’ll like what I contribute over there, to Coudal’s Fresh Signals feed.

Re: Hiatus

As noted.

So, no column again today because, as noted last week, Consumed is on hiatus until late March. I’m not going to announce this every week obviously, but I got some questions about this and the short answer is there’s nothing dramatic going on, good or bad. I’ve just been doing the column for six years now, and asked for a little break to work on some other things. My delightful editors were kind enough to let me do that. (And after all I’m a freelancer, so it’s not like it’s costing them anything if I produce less for them for a little while.) So that’s pretty much the whole story! No worries, no secrets.

Happy new year…

Significant Objects V.2

As some of you may know, Joshua Glenn and I recently launched Significant Objects, Volume 2.

In this sequel to our much-discussed experimental inquiry into the relationship between narrative and value, we plan to publish 50 stories (and auction off 50 objects) with proceeds at the end going in what we hope is an impressive lump sum to 826 National, a nonprofit that tutors students age 6-18 in creative and expository writing. Bid early and often to support this excellent cause!

We’re signing up contributors and editing stories — so visit the site, now and in the weeks ahead (or sign for the email, or do the Facebook thing or the Twitter thing), for stories about thrift-store objects  from Bob Powers, Amy Fusselman, Debbie Millman, Douglas Wolk, Barbara Bogaev, and many more. We’ll also be publishing stories by some of the finalists from our Slate contest, plus a few favorite contributors from Volume 1 will be back for an encore.

And check this out: For our first story, contributor Neil LaBute has made a very cool offer. Not only will the winning bidder get the Significant Object + story — that generous and tasteful individual will also receive a copy of the story hand-written by LaBute!

Even if you don’t bid we really need your help spreading the word. Tell friends, tell strangers, blog about it, tweet about it, link it up. Let’s make this fund-raiser version of the project a success! Thanks.

Oh, and we’re selling mugs. Get yours here.


We better not find one of these in a thrift store any time soon.