A week ago from today, Bobby and I went to see Frank Chimero speak at UCLA. He spoke about his body of work, his inspiration, his upcoming projects, and what design really means. He emphasized that design is not a problem that needed to be “solved,” but–instead–it needed many responses. He gave a few examples, relating design to a few things to make his point, showing that math yields one, distinct, there-can-only-be-one answer while art yields many responses. Thus is the reason why we have so many different types of chairs.
While speaking with Frank afterwards, catching a drink at a local spot not far from UCLA, I listened to him and Bobby speaking about speaking. Bobby related his experiences at Creative Mornings and GOOD Magazine while Frank mentioned his recent foray into speaking in various cities, at various venues. One thing that they both agreed upon was that they were “doing this for the kids,” an item that could not be overlooked in light of a talk to UCLA students. It also hit a point that me and you and anyone with a computer has heard echoed around the Internet lately.
From the nearly corporate “It’s okay to be gay!” videos of the It Gets Better project to Zach Anner’s vindication over Oprah, a lot of work is being done around educating the young and giving everyone a voice. Because of the shrinking world by the Internet and kids as young as four or five walking around with iPods in their pockets, we are now able to connect to these impressionable and voiceless people on and offline.
But, this is nothing new: the Internet has always changed how we perceive people. It has connected us. That’s the point. But, it has gotten to a point where just *watching* a video isn’t enough: you now want to see and interact with that person. That’s why more mainstream people like Greyson Chance, Ted Williams, and aforementioned Anner have hit it big: they were brought off of the computer, on to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and spoke about what they overcame and how you can, too: they did it backhandedly for the kids, but mostly for the money.
With Frank and Bobby, the same math can almost be applied: two Internet celebrities in their own worlds that people want to hear from. Thus, they have been taken out of the Internet by people wanting to hear from them. For example, Frank’s KickStarter project for his book The Shape of Design was posted and fully funded within four hours. Similarly, when Bobby did his Creative Mornings LA talk, the affair sold out within a few hours AND repeated itself when The Fox Is Black hosted the April 2011 event.
This is no coincidence: people within the design niche wanted to see and hear these two Internet celebrities of sorts in person–not online. And, from what I gathered, these two Internet celebrities of sorts wholeheartedly wanted to do this to speak to the people out there that were who they were in their teens: they want to help young creatives that are a bit aimless figure out who they want to be and where to place their energy by imparting their story.
At the heart of this, like all of the aforementioned examples, people are “doing this for the kids,” to set examples online to be seen offline, while also blatantly promoting herself or himself. All of these are modern community services that pay varying amounts, if even at all, but filter right back into the funnel of the Internet Help Parent: these actions are all recorded, sent out to fans, and thusly create new opportunities for the person doing the service.
What “doing it for the kids” gets at is performance studies: small online personas are self-made on the Internet as personal projections of who they really are and what they can really do. This all snowballs until we want to see them offline and interact with them: we want to make them a real, tactile person. Whether it is a kid that can belt a Gaga song better than the diva herself or a guy from Roseville, California who started a small design blog out of boredom, these two cultural tropes are rewarded their respective fame and success because we are used to and want to see more of these stories. They give us hope. This means they must perform their very modern role of showing us how they got there–and we reward them for it.
For Chance, he signed to Ellen’s record label (which she formed to sign him) for playing the role of Child Prodigy. For Williams, he went from homeless in Ohio to
For Frank and Bobby? They will have talks and more talks, books and more books, and eventually more websites to reach different communities because they are playing the role of Twenty First Century New Media and Design Critics.
“Doing it for the kids” is not about being selfish, but about raising awareness to those out there in small towns or rural parts of the world that it does get better and that you can do exactly what you want to do. All of the aforementioned people have “done it for the kids” because we, the “kids,” want them to do it. We want them to perform the roles we cast them in as Idol and Mentor for ourselves or our kids or those people out there who we don’t know who need guidance.
These voices continue to give us hope because we demand that they do. Without taking them offline and making them real, we have nothing else to look for to inspire us.