To the GlblVlgIdiot Family—employees, shareholders, and users, the curious and the brave,
The Web started with a simple idea: Bridge the gap between art and life. In Q2 2013 we took The Web out of beta, and in Q4 of that year we held our IPO—another breakthrough step toward unmediated experience—and since then we’ve just been scaling hard. To date, more than 12 billion people have used The Web to create and share authentic artistic experiences instantly, without barriers. We are jubilated. And we are so grateful to our users for recognizing that we address tomorrow’s problems with … tomorrow’s tools.
We’ve gone from bootstrapping to heavy-hitting venture rounds precisely because we’ve never gotten comfortable. We don’t make incremental changes. Incrementalism leads to irrelevance. And change is about revolution, not evolution. As our CEO, retired visual artist Jon Kessler, so eloquently put it when we first went live: “The Web has the power to make you part of a work of art, to draw on the creativity—and photo and video libraries—of regular people to revolutionize art for the networked age. Call it Art 2.0: truly immersive and social, a quantum leap in how we use technology to relate to one another in order to become ourselves.”
Now, if you’re already invested in GlblVlgIdiot, or even if you’re still dawdling on the tarmac, you probably believe, as I do, that this company is in a position to reshape art like no company in history. Why? How? Because, in the words of our co-CFOs, Unicorn Club veterans Alexander Provan and Joshua Cohen, “We don’t build services to make money—we make money to build services.” Sure, we track our financial metrics—our gross profit, our free cash flow, our Adjusted Consolidated Segment Operating Income—but we always begin and end with creativity, with the creative act.
That’s why we’ve staged our major launches at such cutting-edge art labs as the Swiss Institute in New York and Museum Tinguely in Basel, and that’s why we’re publishing this missive in an industry newsletter like Art in America.
There’s a saying that you hear a lot around the GlblVlgIdiot water-cooler, that you see spray-painted on our conference-room walls: Before we make history, we must know history, so that we can know the future we are programmed to make.
History: Not many people know this, but the Global Village Idiot, the founder of our company and the Rama of The Web, is of old Eskimo stock. He comes from a long long line of holy men, shamans, sacred healers, polar-bear-fur-clad, salmon slapping, bird-mask-making, dance-around-the-fire motherfuckers. When I first came to work for the GVI, just as he was conceiving The Web, he sat me down and said: “Neal.” Well, he didn’t so much say it—he never says anything—he just, you know, beamed it to me. Neal, you know how to start a hundred-billion-dollar company? I awaited the signal. You solve a hundred-billion-dollar problem. Then he kicked back in his chair, got all trance-like, and channeled some wisdom: The old tales. The oldest. Beyond Paleo.
What he transmitted to me, I’m transmitting to you—a story his father told him, and his grandfather before him, and so on through the generations. Think land bridge.
Believe it or not, Neal, all the world used to be one single realm, a Singularity. This realm was called … Pangea. The inhabitants were a single people, who possessed what we might think of as a singular mind. Meaning there were no differences among them. There. Were. No. Them. All was feedback. Species and habitat were as organism and God. Their language was a natural language. Their things were people and their people were things. And then? What happened next was that everything started to split, splinter, go drifty. What had been one land separated into two lands, with water between them; the people-things, they were sundered, and everything just fell apart.
The GVI broke it down for me: On one side of this divide were the Form Folk, and on the other side were the Content Folk. And each folk began—this took generations—to use different tools, to hunt and skin their wild game differently, to invoke the spirit world differently, and, I don’t know, to sip their seal-milk lattes differently. These people retreated into their caves and tried to express themselves in pictures that were also words, in words that were also pictures—ideograms, ideographs, glyphs, all manner of woeful interface. Each folk’s efforts would have been incoherent to the other folk—that is, if they’d ever been able to meet again. But you know how that goes, Charlie Darwin.
This was the beginning of the end for Homo aestheticus. Art and life were now alienated. That fabled world of unified experience became more and more distant, irreparably pluralistic. We humans developed increasingly, exponentially complex systems of representation to summon it back. But all our cave paintings and statuary and vernacular expressions just seemed to cancel each other out. Here we have a fundamental irony: Art mediates—it beautifies, or at least gets in the way; it provokes, reveals, exposes, but also masks—and it does all this, or it can do all this, in order to provide us with what feels like a more authentic experience, a more genuine life. Art mediates in order to conjure a form of being that would not otherwise exist: a form of being that is our only substitute for—or, if you’re a dick, simulacrum of—all that mystical, immemorial Oneness. Who among us has not vaped this eJuice before?
Back to history. Restart.
Ever since this ancient cataclysm, art has been trying to return to life, and life has been trying to return to art—and yet no synthesis has been achieved. We humans—trapped in the middle, playing sentience against posterity and posterity against sentience—we have lost, we have failed: Time and again, we’ve fucked it all up!
What about the Golden Calf, which established a conduit between worshippers and the divine? Failure! What about the Crucifixion, which scaled man into a deity? Epic fail! What about the alchemists, who transmuted the elements and turned clay into life? No diggity. The golden mean and the chambered nautilus, which revealed—which made actionable—the measure of nature? Cool story, bro. The torso of Apollo and the Vitruvian man, which taught us to aestheticize our ideal proportions? Tl;dr.
All efforts to bind, to connect, to hyperlink, to make art into life and life into art, have fallen short. Until now. What was lacking was the information. What was lacking was the data. But every Ice Age or so, a product comes along that blows everything else out of the H₂O —species-level change enacted by an elite cadre of creative technologists, my Eskimos.
Please, understand me: We here at GlblVlgIdiot know that art is immeasurable. And we know that life, too, is immeasurable. They are both qualitative. But the relationships between them, the relationships among them, can be numbered. They can be sequenced and chunked. They can be smoooooothed. We’ve spent years quantifying these relationships, drilling them down to a pseudo-science. We’ve successfully synthesized the information-overload-induced depression of the global village and the blissful ignorance and savant antics of the village idiot. Of course, these ever changing, utterly contingent relationships are a moving target. But GlblVlgIdiot’s algorithm provides for change, captures contingencies, and even—this is the miracle of The Web—surpasses them. What we have here is the autogenic sensorium—the organon pareil—optimized everywhere, everywhen—for everything.
We got to yes on the ﬁrst of September, 2013—it seems like an eternity ago. I’d been hammering away at a compiler for source-check, code-binging for about 36 hours, so I earned my sleep on that futon! I was awoken by a touch to the temple. It was GVI himself. He didn’t have to speak.
You were speaking for us. You are speaking for us now.
The Web, my hairless Eskimos. The Web. To format as plain-text: an app that is not an app, a way of expressing that is also a way of being expressed. Mode and modality both. It is counter-counter-revolutionary. And user-friendly. The very deﬁnition of intuitive. Your monitors will become as obsolete as granite obelisks, papyri, waxen tablets, and dry-erase boards. The Web takes those gestures you already use on your touch-screens, those slavish tactuals and haptic routines, and projects them into meatspace. The Web frees you to ﬂick forward, pinch to close, slide to unlock, snap-to-grid. Rubber-band reality. Pinch-and-zoom the world.
A few months before launch—with The Web still so bugged up that we were basically malarial—I was spearheading the pilot program for GlblVlgIdiot’s One Web per Child initiative in Rwanda and Andorra. What a nightmare—a week without electricity, I spent all my time strolling the mud-packed streets being asked the same asinine questions so many times, by so many child victims of crippling info-famine … puffy stomachs, oozing sores. The moment I got home, I knew I had to put together this handy list of FAQs.
Q. How do you access The Web?
Q. How do you use The Web?
A. Don’t. Change. A. Thing!
Q: How is The Web different from what I’m doing now?
A: Do-wah diddy, diddy dum diddy do.
Q. How do I get off The Web?
A. When you’re ready. When you’re ready.
Now, not to get too technical, but typically ease-of-use conceals the incredible, arresting complexity of computing: deep substrate, complicated silicates. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there you can move mountains.
With The Web, WYSIWYG. What You See Is What You Get. Not only that: WYHISWG. What You Hear is What You Get. WYAIWYG. What You Are Is What You Get. WYAIWYG. The Web constantly and continuously apprehends all spatiotemporal biostats—all the junk you see, hear, do, inhale, exhume when you walk to the corner store to get some coconut water—and integrates them seamlessly with the personal data stored on any and all of your personal devices, and with your information on the cloud. That’s what you see on the previous page: images shot by users of The Web, along with all the data we’ve pulled from their phones when they downloaded the app: favorite and least favorite contacts, vacation photos, Tweets, Yelp reviews, Grindr messages, Ethereum transfers, Lulu cookies, Weibo taps, Alibaba quotes, and Emoji pings.
The result? A 360-degree totally iterative experience… of experience. 24/7—no mediation. Finally: the algorithm without the interface.
We frame the world and then we burn the frame. We embody the stream. We manifest the SoLoMo. And all is light. We imbibe the light. We chug the light.
The history of art is a history of disruption. Failed disruption.
The history of life is a history of failure.
If art were a start-up, it’d be bankrupt by now.
If life were a start-up, it’d be worth something. But we’d each have only a single share.
The Web, however, increases your value. It does this by giving you not just more, but more intensely felt, equity—in yourself—by combining your shares with other users’ shares, and keeping them all in perpetual flux, bundling the riders, enhancing the whole. Every interaction is a pivot. The process is recursive, and reversible, with each transmission not just an interaction but an intra-reaction, maximizing the market that is you. Bottom-up to top-down and around again. I now pronounce you all the mayors of motion, so help you God.
Primitive social network connections have been static, fixed, closed; The Web is kinetic, transitive, open. The Web is your portal to open. It takes you from social networking to social inhabitation—you’re not just messaging someone about some kinetic sculpture at the MoMA; you are yourself and that person; you are the MoMA; you are the installation (and so not entitled to any associated profits, revenues, or data, whether indirect, special, consequential, or exemplary; check the ToS).
With The Web, MySpace is YourSpace, Facebook is Bodybook, Foursquare is Fourcubed. Think of it as 4D printing—printing in time. Imprinting. I’m printing. And you know what that means? We’re going off-screen. No interface means no surface, and no surface means all depth.
Let’s be clear: I’ve said a lot of things in this letter, and I’ve made a lot of promises. I’ve given you an idea of The Web as a totalizing force, a hegemonic entity that scales and spans and compasses. But for every feature and function of The Web, there are still a few things that remain—how should I put it? Incompatible. Incapable. I am speaking, my depilated Eskimos, of politics, the most virulent species of malware that has ever infected the human system. The Web actually takes the human system out of Beta by purging its bugs, dry-roasting them, evaporating the blood from their carcasses, freezing their exoskeletons in amber. Only after we eradicate the parasite of politics can we humans refresh and flourish, devote ourselves to the eternal game: pure play in the wasteland, open-ended choice upon open-ended choice.
This is the essence of the art/life reunion: An Eskimo carves stone with stone. With this tool he can both kill a caribou and grant it immortality on a wall of rock.
Today, Eskimos, I present: your tool.
Chief Technological Officer