Expression and Explanation (Part 1 of 2)

I had two distinctly different episodes during my day yesterday:

Episode I:  Hanging with Dan Paluska at 33 Flatbush

Dan is a new friend who presented at the event I organize, Lucid NYC.  Dan’s background is in robotics, having studied at MIT’s Media and AI lab.  Disenchanted with the robotic world’s complicity, if not downright collusion with the industrial-military complex, Dan left the robotics to pursue more humanistic ways to corral his technical know how.

Dan and I both work out of this building at 33 Flatbush in Brooklyn.  This six-lane-wide stretch of Flatbush in front of the building is heavily trafficked and lined with cold, tall buildings.  There’s an army recruiting center next to our building, a number of 99-cent stores, a Golden Crust Jamaican patty restaurant, a Subway, and a few other non-descript, purely-utilitarian destinations on the road.  It is so comically charmless it possesses an unselfconscious charm—it holds no pretension to be anything other than a nasty stretch of road connecting downtown with Park Slope.

Most weekdays, in front of 33 Flatbush, you can find Dan hanging out conducting one of his humanistic projects, called Brooklyn Mobile.  From a high-minded perspective, Brooklyn Mobile is Dan’s attempt to democratize the dissemination of information.  He petitions the scurrying masses to make their own “newscasts” (though he advertises them as movies), and then posts them on Youtube in the evening.  Rather than being dependent on the hegemonic consolidation of self-serving information dispersal of mainstream media, Dan is providing a template for an atomized (and idealized) media landscape, where everyone has a voice, and media need not be produced to fulfill the wishes of the masses—in Dan’s world, media is proliferated at such a scorching pace, and is so local, that everyone, in essence, will be both connected to the means of media production and the producers of the media, e.g. you could tune into your waitress’s channel to find out about her perspective on Obama’s troop escalation in Afghanistan or what not.

From a less high-minded perspective, Brooklyn Mobile is this weird thought experiment from the tall, skinny, parka-clad, mad scientist.  For all its lofty aims, the project is decidedly earthy.  Brooklyn Mobile consists of a food service cart, crowned by a homemade box made of wood and cardboard.  The box is graffitied with Sharpie-drawn letters touting “Brooklyn Mobile” and “You make the news” and so forth.  Inside the box is Dan’s Macintosh computer; it is set up with Photobooth program.  People press the mouse to activate the program and make their movies.

Dan gets people to make movie by catcalling passerbys, saying, “Wanna make a free Youtube movie?”  The majority of the predominantly African American pedestrians don’t partake, but many do.  The vast majority of movies concern shout-outs to homies and shorties. There are also impassioned pleas for more love in the world and requests from loved ones.  One movie I observed came from a fifty-something, diminutive Latina with a cane; she made an earnest petition to her sister in Chicago—who we found out married a Jew—to come visit her in Brooklyn.

This petition was her second movie with Dan in the span of 20 minutes.  Her first one was a standard shout out, but her follow up was more in line with Dan’s ethos—she was using Brooklyn Mobile as a vehicle for transmitting specific information to specific audience.  This was not “news” that would be of interest to the mainstream, but it had great meaning for this woman and most likely her sister in Chicago.

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