The l33terati

Today on the internet, I’m trying to figure out the origin of the “If you lived here, you’d be home now” sign. The kind that 80s development utilitarian high rises in the fartherst corners of the city limits sometimes display outside.

Seems like it’s a Boston thing. I first came across the phrase reading Susanna Kaysen’s memoirs of MacLean when I was eleven or twelve. And I clearly associate it with the apartment complex by the often gridlocked Storrow Drive on-ramp to 93 South. A friend of my mother once lived there. It’s the Kevin Bacon of real estate in New England and iconic enough for Mass General Hospital to use as a landmark on their directions page. This article suggests it started as a 60s citywide campaign to reverse the flight to the suburbs.

It’s like “A diamond is forever,” classic and to the point. It’s so clever it could be twittered. Something you memorize without thinking.

Since I started the blog in April of last year, I’ve had a halfworked post titled “l33terati” waiting as a draft. It’s not that I can’t quite figure out what to do with it, as I’ve certainly posted plenty of “blog essays” without any real point or unifying theme. It’s that the idea behind it is entirely false but something I really want it to happen. It’s my own fiction. I want for there to be a generation of authors whose love of writing was born from years of geekery, starting in chat rooms and message boards.

So in my post-long alternate history of book culture in the aughties — “l33terati” — there’s a generation (1978-1986, mainly) writers with a rough, punchy way of writing that is not without aesthetic merit. The fiction doesn’t take place on the Internet necessarily, but the narrative is clearly influenced by it. It is a literary movement that is a total rejection of the purple teased out prose of MFA-speak that needlessly prattles on about memories of grandmother’s house and the smell of sugar cookies and carpet cleaner or whatever.

So there is no geek literary movement. There are geeks that write, some even embrace their geekiness, but no work is about to oust “Eat, Pray, Love” or “The Corrections” as the dominant publishing ideal. Maybe the reason “l33terati” never happened is all the geek writers value tl, dr above everything else.

If there is a “l33terati,” they aren’t writing novels or even short stories. They are writing flash-super-super-flash fiction or flash-super-super-flash creative nonfiction. That quick evocative half-poetry, half-advertising that is “A diamond is forever” or “if you lived here, you’d be home now,” well you can find it on Twitter every day.

This generation considers the way words look and sound together, without necessarily a care for their actual meaning. I think of the time I spent deliberating on a handle for my AIM account when I was a teenager. I was really proud of how clever it was (and I won’t tell you what it is, least anyone uncover the sprawl of terribly embarrassing high school lonesome usenet posts Google has idexed…forever.) It was like that for most teenagers in the 90s, a mix of emo and self-promotion in the “losthelecopter,” “vixengoverness,” “cakelike” and others. Back there there were no photos or real names, so the handle was the way you stood out in an internet community. There were straightedgers who had their handles between x — “xdollfacex” or such. And if you took a conventional handle, one with your age, hobby, or hometown, well that was another form of signaling.

I’m not quite sure how to write this, but I think technology makes young people proficient in copywriting, more so than literature. The ultimate pop culture reference of the year: Don Draper, as he proclaims the new Kodak invention isn’t a wheel… but a “Carousel.” It seemed like a Twitter epiphany:

“”Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in house at a fur company. This old-pro copywriter, Greek, named Teddy … Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘new.’ It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of Calamine Lotion. We also talked about a deeper bond with the product — nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘the wheel’; it’s called ‘the carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around, and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”

I studied economics in college and my favorite professor said we should never turn in a report longer than two pages. Anything more than that would be digressing from the assignment. While, I’m well aware my writing could be smoother and flow more pleasantly, I count myself as lucky to never be bogged down with “qualifying the signify” academic-ese, I’d inevitably need to un-learn. Actually, when I come across academic papers seeped in such language, I think it looks so… middlebrow. Like a kid playing dress up.

Which reminds me of the lecture I attended at Frieze last month, “Scenes from a Marriage: Have Art and Theory Drifted Apart?” It’s worth listening to the podcast, especially to hear the scuffle between the panelists and an artist who sees nothing wrong with using words like paint or clay. While I sometimes appreciate an artist’s vague language, when an academic speaks without clarity, I see it as their own shortcoming. It’s bluffing, it’s failure to communicate. You might as well say nothing at all.

The Tomorrow Museum
Oct. 13, 2009