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The Media Is Trying, Or At Least We're Still Here

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This winter has been a bleak one for New York media. In November alone, job numbers plummeted in the print industry. Some kid in Russia also invented ChatRoulette. And nobody quite knows what to say.

David Carr, ruefully holding onto his seat at the New York Times, wrote an optimistic portrait of the future of Manhattan mediaites at the end of that month. Hinging on the juxtaposition of the decline and fall -- in a very unWaughful way -- Carr says we shouldn't be scared:

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful.

"Ambient information" made a little bit of sense to me, unexpectedly, in the cavernous, pulsating atmosphere of Le Poisson Rouge. LPR -- that's what the hipsters call it -- hosted the Unsound Festival. I stumbled down the stairs of the music venue in Greenwich Village, cuffed with a neon armband, stamped with access, and awash in at least four languages.

Unsound is a Polish music festival that visited New York for the first time a couple weeks ago. It's self-described mission is "to forge new links between music genres, between generations and even between artistic practices." But I was really just there to hear music by artists I'd never heard of, from countries I'd never been to. There's something post-spatial about that experience, and I'm into it.

I'm a digital kid who learned to read on Nintendo, to write on AOL, and to broadcast on Twitter. Inside LPR, I could see about 200 just like me. Jackets draped over their forearms and holding beer in plastic cups with their free hands, each of Carr's "bright young things" became their own disruption, typing and surfing the web one-handed while Tim Hecker conducted an electronic orchestra from his Macbook. When emails got furious, IM conversations rapid, they moved the beer cup to their teeth and used both hands.

Does ambient information need to be made useful? Based on my peers' gazes into their iPhones and Droids, their faces blue from the glow of the touchscreen, information is inherently useful. It just needs users. And curators to make that user experience better

I went back to LPR just a couple days after the end of Unsound to see Four Tet, a British electronic artist, and Nathan Fake, his sometime sidekick. There I bumped into the same cast of characters. Unsound's founder, Mat Schulz, stood just ahead of me in line. Inside were the iPhone drones live-Tweeting the show, eyes closed and rocking on their heels.

It was a blast. But I'm not sure it was a glimpse into the future of the media. Carr rounds out his meditation on my millennial generation -- some bumping into doors already closed, others breaking them down -- ever optimistically:

They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.

It's a nice metaphor. But we don't live on an island; we live in a cloud.

New Yorkers in the media should get used to the fact that the Manhattan media of the last millennium will never come back. As long as 17-year-olds are building ChatRoulettes, we should think less about how to reinvent island media culture as Carr suggests and more about how to renegotiate the definition of media culture.

Moments like Unsound are rare and, as the name implies, inverted. In the words of Schulz, "It kind of exists in a more amorphous space as well." For my screen-staring friends at the show, I think "amorphous" is a better word to describe information than "ambient."

Our cloud moves and changes in unexpected ways. The fact of the matter is that when the other kids and I came up from LPR's basement space, blinked our eyes in the streetlights, and headed back to Brooklyn, we drifted deeper into the cloud and away from the physical space we shared for a few moments.

My generation is a consortium of digital drifters floating over the landscape of our past like cotton white nimbuses in a John Constable painting. The clouds will part after the bleak winter, but they'll come back.

Really, there's something inherently separate, anonymous, amorphous but, yes, connected about us. And I'm into it.

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