Roy Christopher: Flip the Script

What follows is the Introduction to my interview anthology Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and HeroesDouglas Rushkoff suggested that I ask some of the interviewees from the book to ask me questions. I attempted to choose a broad set of people so that I might get a broad set of questions. My interviewers include Rushkoff, Erik Davis, Howard Bloom, Paul D. Miller a.k.a DJ Spooky, Steve Aylett, Howard Rheingold, Steven Shaviro, and Bruce Sterling. Here’s hoping that my answers provide at least a little bit of background as to why I put this book together. Many thanks to everyone involved and to you for your continued interest.

Erik Davis: You have opted to put material successfully created for the web into a book. Why? What are your reasons — intellectual, emotional, tactical — for going Gutenberg in this day and age?

Roy Christopher: Well, I have to give credit where credit is due: Eric Paulos called me a few years ago and asked me why I didn’t publish my site frontwheeldrive.com as a book. By then, the site had grown into a sizeable archive of interviews, so I considered it seriously. The idea had entered my head before that, but it had been the most fleeting of thoughts. His initial push was the impetus for the book you now hold in your hands.

The original design for frontwheeldrive.com was to host brief but in-depth interviews. It seemed that, as the site grew, so did the length of the interviews. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy reading large tracts of text on the screen. Putting them into a book allows portability, ease of reading, and puts them in a different context. The hypertextuality of the web made each interview sort of an island, not only on frontwheeldrive.com, but on the web itself. Follow for Now houses them in one place, as a snapshot of the thinking that occurred on and through frontwheeldrive.com.

Certainly, part of the reason is selfish. I’m a bibliophile, and this is a book that I wanted on my shelf. Sure, frontwheeldrive.com has been around since 1997, but the nature of the web is still ephemeral, and I wanted a concrete document of these interviews, ideas, and the work put into compiling them.

Steven Shaviro: What are the larger effects in the world, of the ideas you explore in this book and with these interviews? Are human lives being changed by them, in any meaningful and significant ways?

RC: While there may not be a lot of directly earth-shattering revelations in the interviews in this book, potentially life-changing ideas abound. New and different ways of thinking about the world, about living in that world, about the future, about humanity, about technology are found throughout. I have learned more from these interviews and this project than most anything else I’ve ever done. Here’s hoping I can pass at least a little bit of that on.

Howard Rheingold: Young people don’t read newspapers. What is the future of journalism?

RC: I don’t know, the MoBlog? I think you’d know the answer to this one better than I.

If the newspaper was McLuhan’s “warm bath,” then the web is our hot shower. The serendipitous arrangement of the information in a newspaper is expanded and amplified online. Whoever can come correct with the news and information in the fastest, sexiest manner will determine the future of journalism. I can’t say through what communication channel that will be, but whereas our parents read the newspaper, our children certainly won’t.

Howard Bloom: Think back to when you were five, ten, sixteen, and twenty-two. Then tell me the passion points, the imprinting moments, the stories that shaped the curiosities that forced you to love these idea-makers, to do these interviews, and to write this book.

RC: I grew up somewhat isolated. We moved constantly, but my family typically lived in the hinterlands of the South, so, early on, I rarely had neighborhood friends. Forced to entertain myself, I occupied my mind with writing, drawing, and reading.

By age ten, I found BMX and skateboarding. The influences of these activities and their surrounding cultures cannot be understated. As an offshoot of riding bikes and skateboards, I started making my own ’zines by age sixteen, and there I learned how to turn interviews and events into pages with staples. By twenty-two, I was writing music reviews and band interviews for magazines.

The final shift to this book’s contents came much later. I read Jim Gleick’s Chaos at age twenty-seven, and that book blew my head wide open. I suddenly realized that I wanted to do so much more than music journalism. I started frontwheeldrive.com and sought out the scientists, artists, and writers that I thought were pushing things.

This book is a culmination of all of these things. BMX and skateboarding still maintain a presence, and all of the ideas represented are the ones that still keep my mind well-greased.

Bruce Sterling: What the heck does “Follow for Now” mean?

RC: I chose the phrase “follow for now,” which is lifted from the Public Enemy song “Bring the Noise,” as the title of this collection to honor to the interviewees in this book. I consider the people interviewed herein mentors. I have looked to them — and continue to look to them — and their work for insights about what’s going on in the world, and what will be going on in the future.

I’m also hoping that this collection will help inspire a new crop of thinkers to pick up the torch, a Fourth Culture, if you will.

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky: Why are you always checking out hip-hop? What makes you include it in your work?

RC: I think hip-hop is one of the most exciting things happening in our lifetime. Those of us in our mid-thirties have grown up with it, and I find that people our age are either very into it or totally despise it.

I like to think of research and writing in the collage style of hip-hop. In many ways, hip-hop culture is about taking what you have and making something more from it, something uniquely your own — kind of an extension of what Bucky Fuller called “ephemeralization” (i.e., making more with less). Viewed in that frame, this book is a mix-tape that I remixed with cuts from all of my favorite artists.

The short and less pretentious answer is that hip-hop inspires me. I will always love H.E.R.

Douglas Rushkoff: Deep down, don’t you consider yourself superior — or at least more advanced — than the people you’ve interviewed here? I mean, you’re from the next generation, aren’t you? We’re rear-wheel, if anything. You’re the front-wheel, right? When will you give up on us and just drive?

RC: No, I don’t see myself as superior or more advanced. I look up to all of you as mentors. I mean, this book is interviews with you, and the best interviews in here weren’t even conducted by me.

There are advantages to being of the next generation, but a lot of them stem from the fact that my interests transcend the gaps between yours, mine, and the next. I’m interested in culture, the evolution of technology, and, more specifically, technology’s influence on culture. At the same time, I’m interested and involved in several youth subcultures. The collusion of these interests puts me in touch with research and innovations from forward-thinking elders, theory-minded peers, and cutting-edge progeny. This book contains some of all of these.

But, if you’re ready for me to drive, then by all means, give me the keys!

Steve Aylett: Are you happy, and if so, do you do that by evading certain facts of the world, or acknowledging them and doing things that compensate personally and are a balm, or something else? Is there a difference between the first and second strategies?

RC: Yes, I am genuinely happy. I think there’s a contradiction in these two strategies. They are different, and not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, in order to evade facts of the world, mustn’t one acknowledge them? I use a combination of the two. That is, I acknowledge those things about the world that I do not like, then I evade the ones I cannot change, and I constantly strive to do things that compensate personally.

Without slipping totally into solipsism, I recognize that my immediate world is, in large part, of my own creation: My existence is a product of the choices I make. I love Richard Saul Wurman’s idea of “designing your life.” While I certainly can’t choose every aspect of my days, I refuse to act as if I’m not in control of most of them. Owning that responsibility makes me happy.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Ted Newcomb September 18th, 2011 7:16 am

    Here’s the keys kid, but be back by midnight:)

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