Digital Project

Some Assembly Required

Culture is also something personal; it is cultivation with respect to the appreciation of ideas and art and broad human interests. When efficiency is identified with a narrow range of acts, instead of with the spirit and meaning of activity, culture is opposed to efficiency.

—John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916

The Internet’s everywhere, but where are we? We can feel a bit lost ourselves.

This world I live in—this isn’t quite how I want to live. I want the time and space to think and read, and to look at and make things; I want unbroken days so I can write with a clear head; to reread your essay, to read myself into it before I edit it. I want to get paid a bit more for a bit less done better, with more care, and I want the same for my friends and strangers. I want to discuss what I’m doing and thinking about with thoughtful people; I want my work to amount to something solid, not scatter out in multitasked busyness. And I know it’s not the Internet’s fault—but where did my day go? Where the hell did the day go? I read a lot of interesting things, they seemed interesting at the time, I can’t quite remember. I have thirteen tabs open, twenty-one, thirty-four, it’s like I’m almost living in my laptop. Is it … the Internet … the Internet … not me … [shakes, collapses, palpating smartphone]

This is an essay about efficiency and culture, acts and activity, narrowness and breadth. This is an essay about ideas and art and writing, and cultivating them slowly for five years, as best as we can between making a living. This is an essay about Triple Canopy; about who we are, and where we are, and how we’ve negotiated this world we live in. This is an essay about the Internet—and real life; about the Internet—and everything else. (The Internet is real life. The Internet is everything else.) And this is an essay, a collective appeal, about what we’d like with your help to try next.

Triple Canopy 3.0: Internet lingo, surely, but useful enough. Refresh is a nicer name for the profound website redesign we’re working on, and all the money we’ve got to raise to pay for it. Profound, of course, is a suspicious word for a website, though certainly much better than disruptive. But it’s not just a redesign, and it’s not just a website, and it is profound, deep-seated, hard for us to fathom; it’s a rethinking, from the ground up, of how we create culture and a coherent body of knowledge in a resistant, efficient, particularized world. We’re very excited. This is important to us. But it’s tough work, and not cheap; even describing it is difficult, and we have almost as many questions as answers. Which is why we’re appealing to you.

We are, or have been for five years now, an online magazine, at, home to strong, challenging, sometimes prescient art and writing, edited and designed for careful reading and viewing; our mantra has been Slow down the Internet. But we’re also fifteen or so editors (writers, artists, coders, designers, researchers) and almost five hundred contributors who’ve spent five years working together, and figuring out how to work together, how to make the time and space to work together, how to afford to work together—what working together in this world can mean.

Slow down the world! A joke. But why not. It’s what we’ve come to argue for, and what we’ve been after from the start. It’s relationships, conversations and collaborations, that last a long time, in Greenpoint, Berlin, Sarajevo, Tucson, LA; twenty people in a room for two hours, a city for two weeks, emailing and skyping at intervals for years. It’s fifty-hour Gertrude Stein marathons and fifty-day lecture series—hundreds of people reading, writing, and thinking difficult things together. It’s working with painters who’ve preferred canvas, with poets who’ve preferred chapbooks, with academics who want an audience that knows things they don’t. It’s understanding what the material needs.

It’s residencies at schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, working with students to understand public discourse on and after the Web. It’s figuring out how a website can be archived as a book, not just in one; how a book can index a seminar, a symposium, a magazine issue, and a museum show. It’s using the magazine issue to think about the photograph in the age of the JPEG, about the collected lies of counterfactual literature, or, soon enough, about how to speculate meaningfully on the future. It’s sustained inquiry in multiple forms for as long as is required. We call this creative research, and we call this the expanded field of publication. One is the name for the process, and one is the name for the product, but they’re actually synonymous. They’re names for engaging the world at our own speed.

So no, not an online magazine—a magazine whose hub is online. To be sure, Triple Canopy 3.0 will address screen reading and viewing. We’re building the templates we need for publishing art, writing, and sound to their best advantage; a sophisticated database that tracks collaborations and clusters, similarity and difference, online and off; a much smarter, living archive, sensitive to contexts of all kinds, which will allow for discovery beyond stream, search, and algorithm. The Swiss design studio Astrom/Zimmer is helping us map multidimensional, subjective relationships between projects, to communicate the connections we already perceive as editors; and working on a long-form reading tool that will be built into the site—an experiment we’re making with nuanced mobile and social reading, a whole new part of the Internet for us.

But the platform is the crucial thing: the structure and concepts that support the tools and support the people who use them. Triple Canopy 3.0 is, right now, a series of questions toward a new kind of platform. How can a website hold activities on the Web, in print, and in person—hold them together and communicate how they relate? Can an issue of a magazine include a book and an installation, a tweet and a single image, an artist’s edition and a reported article? Can multiple issues occur simultaneously, or one for three weeks and another for a year? Is the magazine issue the best metaphor for a coherent set of inquiries, in whatever form, that starts at some point and eventually ends? And underlying these questions are the deeper ones we broached last year: What do you want to do now, and what do you need to do it? How do you want things to be?

If you were to build an entire structure, online and off, from the ground up, to support the way you want to work and support the work you want to make, what precisely would it be? This is a question for you, not just as a reader or viewer, but as someone who thinks about and makes things—because we imagine our readers as potential contributors, or at least hope the work we do is useful for your own. What platform would you build? We’ve spent five years preparing to address this question, assembling the infrastructure while learning from a brilliant, generous, challenging community of contributors, from peers such as Light Industry and the Public School, Ugly Duckling and Fence, Project Projects and Printed Matter, n+1 and Cabinet, White Columns and Artists Space, Participant Inc and Sternberg, Dalkey Archive and New Directions, the Kitchen and Dexter Sinister, Verso and Semiotext(e), the New Inquiry and Jacobin, the Song Cave and Primary Information. We have a clear sense of what’s needed; now we need answers for the toughest questions and, well, $100,000.

Nearly a century ago, John Dewey described America’s conflation of culture and efficiency; he saw an atomization of experience into “separate institutions with diverse and independent purposes and methods. Business is business, science is science, art is art, politics is politics, social intercourse is social intercourse.” It’s twice as true today. Triple Canopy 3.0 has to serve as an alternative to tech-world fantasies about crowd-sourced knowledge production and algorithmic cultural creation, to a star-system cultural economy that pays a few people a lot and a lot of people little or nothing, and to ossified cultural institutions that neutralize all they survey. TC 3.0 has to support formally engaged, interdisciplinary work that resists and expands the present, and keep supporting it until it finds its place. And so Triple Canopy has to be both sustainable and flexible, for ourselves and our contributors: We have to pay better, spend more hours than we already do, and keep hiring people who know things we don’t. We have to keep enlarging our own sense of what Dewey called “the unity or integrity of experience.”

Much of what we do is free or inexpensive. We don’t sell your data. (We barely check our analytics.) We do sell tote bags and editions, apply for grants, consult on the side—we do hustle. But our business model remains as impossible as our old mantra. The only way forward is for our readers to choose to pay for things we’d give them for free; decide to pay for culture, broadly conceived, that’s expensive in time and mental space; want to support the work we do because they genuinely like it—and because, even, it models a world they’d live in.