World Wide Weird

by David Pescovitz

I’m a collector of unpopular culture.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been attracted to the fringes of art, literature, music, science, and technology. I grew up hanging around alternative record stores, dialing into underground Bulletin Board Systems, trading photocopied ‘zines, scouring used book stores, watching third generation dupes of psychotronic films, and researching anomalous phenomena at the local library. I am most at home on the fringes of thought, reason, and expression. I delight in the serendipity and synchronicities that reveal themselves during my expeditions into the outré. The Web amplified my appetite and became a compass on my journeys into high weirdness. Indeed, I saw it as the ultimate card catalog of curiosities. Whatever my fascination, I could (and do) follow the (literal) links between topics, drop down endless rabbit holes filled with secret histories, and identify the intersections between people, places, and events. Nearly every page was a portal to another pocket universe calling for my attention.

Twenty-five years later, the Web is not just a directory of these wonderful things but also the thing itself. It isn’t a map of unpopular culture, it is the territory. Out-of-print records I sought for years are readily available, free, from MP3 storehouses and file sharing networks. Blogs are the ‘zines of today. The most obscure avant-garde films, underground cartoons, and documentaries are uploaded to YouTube at astonishing rates. All of the media we traded when I was younger is now swapped online with the crucial difference that even if you give something away, you still have it.

Of course, not everything is digitized. Some of it never will be. And that’s ok. The more time we spend online, in virtual mediated spaces, the more we appreciate enchanting physical objects and experiences like beautiful books, oil pantings, the crackle and pop of vinyl records, DIY technology that’s been hacked and remade in the vision of the user, even photocopied and stapled print ‘zines. I think that this newfound respect for tangibility, the desire to get our hands dirty, is an unintended consequence of the Web, and a damned good one.

Really, all of that aligns with Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original intent of the Web, to link and share information globally. But as we all know, the Web also became a powerful way to link and share people. The most intriguing part about almost any culture, popular or not, is the people creating that culture. The ubiquity of the Web means that it’s never been easier to connect with individuals around the world who share your interests, passions, and lens on reality. And, if we’re willing, to learn from our differences. Those connections are what keep cultures alive, including unpopular culture.

In the late 1960s, Timothy Leary, who later became a patron saint of the emerging cyberculture, was traveling the country encouraging young people to turn on to the many levels of consciousness. One day, a journalist asked Tim what people should do after they “turn on.” Tim flashed his infectious grin and said, “Find the others.” The Web helps me do that.

David Pescovitz is co-editor/managing partner of Boing Boing and research director at Institute for the Future.


  1. seth godin

    seth godin

    Unpopular culture. Brilliant.

    Thanks for everything you’ve done for all these years. Those of us in the peanut gallery appreciate it.