Dōgen, the 13th-century Zen reformer, argued that enlightenment isn’t a separate realm of being that—once attained—would keep the enlightened free from delusion. His philosophy embraced a radical nonduality (as Oregon professor Hee-Jin Kim calls it), a concept that is germane to ARCADE, which seeks to transcend its home city and bridge the overlapping but very different worlds of print and online publishing. When I think of ARCADE, both Seattle and the magazine that arrives in the mail come to mind. I want to discuss why I think this is a good thing that takes nothing away from ARCADE’s understandable desire to be one with a larger universe.
Let’s start with print, a medium with centuries of provenance. Informed by its history, print’s evolution is slow and even conservative. Despite emerging from print, the world of online media owes more at this point to television and radio. Online channels’ migration from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones (and Alexa-equipped speakers and flat screens) has disrupted much more than traditional publishing.
The printed ARCADE gives specific form to content through the work of its editors, contributors, designers, and press people. They form a team, devoted to a product, whose work is an art and craft in itself. Since any medium gives form to content, I should say instead that in print ARCADE does this in ways that readers can evaluate based on established criteria like legibility, coherence, and beauty. Print shares these criteria with other media, but the norms are its own.
Print magazines used to range from bespoke to popular and from serious to disposable. Online channels blur these distinctions while luring the pop-disposable audience away from print. Social media trades on reducing all content to tiny, ad-accompanied bites that can be glanced at or pursued. These posts are often pushed forward algorithmically in response to viewers' habits. As advertisers are finding, at the massive scale of Facebook et al., some of these habits can be disturbing—local to a fault.
So, local—what does it really mean? When a political party mines social media to tailor its messages to voters on a rigorously local basis, district by district, this produces a majority without much of a shared outlook. Provinciality has its charms and limitations. We admire it in cuisine and viniculture, but it’s less useful in culture and politics. Yet great art, literature, and politics can emerge locally, often as a flash of momentary genius. When you visit art museums off the beaten track, you sometimes see how relative isolation can mix with an economic boom to create a burst of self-confident creativity. It may fade away, but its community of creators connects with others and works hard to stay in the game. This weighs against provinciality, even in towns and villages, and even when the creators are beaten down.
The roots of ARCADE are in Seattle, a city (like others of its kind) where people are at home in the world, but more at home in one part of it. When I think of local, I think of that rooted cosmopolitan Henry Thoreau, who found the whole of nature in Concord, even as his own reading and travels connected him to much else. If I describe ARCADE as local, I mean it in this transcendent sense.
In his book The Scent of Time, the Berlin-based philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues that we’re caught up in the online world’s endless flow, a white noise that leaves us anxious or bored if we encounter gaps in time that aren’t filled in algorithmically. Reading ARCADE, we move at our own pace and linger when things resonate. Like Seattle, print is a center of gravity for ARCADE, around which its community orbits.