From “made you look” to “made you think” - using walls to spread ideas.
Walls are all around us; they house us, protect us, imprison us and connect us. Some walls are so important they became famous: The Berlin Wall, The Great Wall of China and most recently, Your Wall on Facebook. But all walls everywhere have one thing in common – they are used by people to share ideas.
Living in the dense and blind world of LA neighborhoods, colors and letters on walls broadcast the unwritten rules of the local gangs.
I grew up in Van Nuys, Los Angeles. During high school the walls in my neighborhood began to speak to me. Scribbled across them were large block letters that spelled BVN (Barrio Van Nuys) for the predominant Mexican gang in the neighborhood. But in the washes of the LA River stood glorious 40 foot long, full-color pieces that spelled the name of the artist. It wasn’t always just a turf thing. My friends then introduced me to the secret world of walls.
The wildstyle of Rime, part of the MSK crew based out of Los Angeles
I was an Indian math/science nerd so slipping out of the house to illegally spray-paint walls in the middle of the night was a strange hobby. But I loved it because it was a way for me to anonymously express myself to the world. In the morning, there it was – making people look. A week later if nobody tagged over you it was a sign of respect – the ultimate street status. I didn’t do it for long; I was nearly arrested and decided to stick to my books after that.
A piece I did in Santa Barbara when I was 19 years old congratulating my sister on getting into UC Berkeley. Told you I was a nerd.
Since those days in the late 80’s, piecing on walls has greatly evolved. Back then getting recognized was the goal and volume was key – the more places your name was up, the greater your notoriety. Nowadays Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, Banksy and others have become globally recognized brands by putting up iconic imagery designed to ask the question “What does this mean?” more than say “I was here”. True art creates a change in its viewers; to do that an artist needs people to see their work. The contemporary art gallery has become the 405 freeway overpass.
A Banksy modified billboard in Hollywood commenting on society’s obsession with image.
“The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker” - Obey the Giant website
Seventeen thousand years ago in Lascaux prehistoric humans drew pictures of animals on the walls of the caves in which they lived. One theory is that the drawings of mammoths and horses were used to communicate successful hunting strategies within the clans.
The earliest cave paintings in Lascaux, France where early humans used the walls around them to share ideas between clans.
In the middle ages, it was common for people to post notices on town and castle walls to spread gossip and warn travelers and locals alike. Martin Luther, wanting to expose the extravagances of the Pope, nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church for all to see, thus igniting the Catholic Reformation and changing history forever.
But today the walls in our lives have become harder to see; our walls are digital. They have moved on our phones and into our pockets and laptops.
Nowadays instead of spray-painting on a wall we post our thoughts on Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook. We share our ideas, bits of our lives and prove we exist through the reactions of family, friends and strangers. This new wall has a popular name – Social Media.
We are surrounded by personal digital walls wherever we go.
Everyone that has something to say can now say it directly to you. It is creating information density that is confusing and desensitizing us. Although information can scale infinitely, human attention cannot. This insight is driving a new breed of businesses.
Big Data is a promising field that uses advanced algorithms to search huge amounts of data to find patterns that people cannot. It promises the ability to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. The front-runner in this field is Palantir, a company that creates software that is used by the CIA to predict terrorist events using data sets as diverse as plane tickets and weather.
Information density is also creating a new economy based on curation, and it is quickly become the darling of Silicon Valley. Individuals like Maria Popova of Brainpickings and Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing scour the web and post what they find interesting to massive followings. People on Twitter become mini-curators that craft a news feed that they hope will gain a following. Platforms like Pinterest and others are attracting tremendous valuations because they enable me to find the needle that I didn’t know I wanted. Even Apple curates its own App Store.
Having good taste (or most importantly - a Point-of-View) in our blind and dense world is the new search engine. You just need a wall to write it on.