Online Commerce Day!

Rohit Khare (
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 16:05:11 -0800

So, today was my day to sit in my black leather throne in the=20
slanting sunshine warming my toes and play materialistic. I already=20
bought new orchids at the massive annual show in Crystal Court, a=20
beanstalk kit at the bookstore, and I already have enough food to=20
preserve me through a nuclear attack, so I've focused today on=20
intellectual entertainments.

Namely, magazines. After that last post's mention of Wallpaper, I've=20
been on a tear to find some evidence I can order it online,=20
somewhere: but it has no website, Time ignores its stepchild,=20 doesn't have a bounty for it, nor any other sign inthe=20
world save one fansite at -- I used=20
the proffered address to send a dunning note:

Subject: Hey, gang get with it!
I'm not subscribing until I see a website and an online order form:=20
yourself, Time, enews, something!

Or do you need a recommendation to a website designer even at this=20
advanced age? :-)

A newsstand buyer of every(other) issue,
Rohit Khare

Of course, that has something to do with the fact the subscription=20
price is HIGHER than individual copies. But it's a stuck up crowd all=20

Instead, I went searching for the new yorker, which has no site (an=20
equal orphan to Wallpaper for the Conde Nast group, I suppose) save a=20
subscribe button (yahoo! -- although it's the same $42/yr as the=20
blow-in-cards in the paper version).

Then Harper's Digest, which eventually surfaced at, but=20
wanted $14/yr -- while was blowing it out at $11.99. So off=20
I went, and in quick order tossed in a few more. The most inspiring=20
was an impulse purchase of Atlantic Monthly, simply because the site=20
reminded me through a little "people who bought this also liked"=20
button -- I plunked down $9.99 sight unseen (without even going to=20
its details page). Also got Conde Nast Traveler for $12 (though I'll=20
miss the Jan 199 Gold List) (which I paged through, of all places, at=20
the Irvine Jiffy Lube. Life in the luxe country...) and Los Angeles=20
for $9.50 (too cheap to pass up, especially if they ever top their=20
Salma Hayek-in-a-ball-gown-of-whipped-cream cover :-). Usability nit:=20
when I was done shopping, I couldn't find a check-out button! I had=20
to go poring all over to find the button in the bottom footer graphic.

Since I just picked up a newsstand copy of Echoes and the book=20
Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950's, I plunked down another=20
$20 -- without even SSL -- to for four=20
issues of design criticism at turns fascinating and apalling. Also=20
threw in an order for a back issue on Concorde- and Morgans- interior=20
designer Andree Putman (including a Boston design resource guide).=20
Next issue: Manhattan Moderne, a gatefold shopping map :-)

And the crowing purchase was shipped as unsecured email off to Italy=20
for a year's student price on Abitare, a bilingual architecture,=20
graphic design, and bespoke furniture monthly: $89. Hey, I bought a=20
newsstand copy at $13, so why not? Consider it kitchen-design porn.=20
(Actually, I was sold by the current cover on the design of Milan and=20
Oslo's new airports -- I'm a sucker for bits on airlines and=20
airports, all the way back to a 99-cent surplus book my parents=20
bought when I was 9 called, simply "International Airport" that has=20
fueled my fantasies ever since)

I shopped a bit on eBay, but only to the degree the resales pointed=20
me at an authentic provider of original reproductions (how's that for=20
oxyirony? try ). Picked up some=20
more tchotchkes, even requesting engraving through a spiffy shopping=20
cart (but change from brass to chrome? no way -- throw it out and=20
reconfigure your order...)

I finally called in and set up my Fidelity PIN, so I can track my=20
Japanese losses from home. There's even a cute feature to retitle=20
your account with a mnemonic -- not new technology, but a touching=20
thought when you could hide behind a legacy system instead.=20
Http:// was a pro experience all around -- except=20
that when I got my asset allocation recommendations out of a=20
protracted quiz, the frameset bungled the back button before I could=20
print it out. Sheesh... was out of commission this afternoon. Frustrating.

Bankrupted by IE4.5 AutoComplete *,

* Yes, it really is that big a deal: not typing in my address -- nay,=20
the thrill of seeing the computer do something for me as it ought! --=20
really motivated me to keep on buying today..



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A wave of downtowners who once embodied the "Rent" life style ... has=20
been transformed into an upwardly mobile, entrepreneurial crowd. They=20
can be described as the Wallpaper Generation, after the 2-year-old=20
design and life-style magazine that has given an ultra-hip spin to=20
the retro future look of the postwar decades.
--The New York Times, Style section, Sept. 6, 1998
You may be excused for thinking that the above quote, from the cover=20
story "Generation Wallpaper," is merely a generous, somewhat forced=20
product placement and instant slogan for the eponymous design mag. In=20
fact, it's the latest in a long series of Times tributes to its=20
readers' spending power.
As New York has risen higher and higher on its gasoline-soaked=20
mattress of play money these past few years, the Times' expanded=20
features sections -- Style, Home, Dining -- have been spinning a=20
blissful narrative of universal, democratic affluence: a national=20
boom that has lifted all boats; a wonderful town of stockbrokers and=20
Web designers, sweating money, blowing bull market wads (but=20
tastefully! unostentatiously!) on million-dollar stone walls and=20
peekytoe crab, dining and dealing and keeping the city's=20
harried-but-happy restaurateurs from taking their usual summer=20
vacations. In its Sunday magazine, one special issue covers the=20
mostly sunny "moods of the boom"; another covers Joe Lunchpail's=20
perennial concern: flying business class.
Now, the Style section reports, even the too-cool are loaded. Hence,=20
according to the effusive story, Wallpaper, the London-based, Time=20
Warner-owned magazine known for its trend-setting design coverage,=20
has become nothing less than the voice of a generation --=20
notwithstanding its circulation of a mere 85,000, 30,000 in the=20
United States. It is the magazine, according to the Style section,=20
with which the former slackers of downtown have cleaned themselves=20
up, lost the thrift-shop coffee tables, embraced futuristic '50s=20
modernism, and traded in the Cafe Bustelo for cosmopolitans.
In other words, it is the sleek chrome coat hook on which to hang our=20
newest Generation X clich=E9s: that yesterday's temp is today's IPO=20
millionaire, and that a young demographic changed overnight from easy=20
tokin' ne'er-do-wells to caffeinated worker bees and connoisseurs.=20
"Try to imagine that downtown was a big college town," opines an=20
architect (he's drinking an oversized cosmopolitan) interviewed in=20
the piece. "Now, it's grown up and wants to be more responsible and=20
Well, that's one way of looking at it. Another is that downtown had=20
its rent doubled and architects and the like swooped in on the newly=20
vacant apartments. So while it's not surprising to find downtown=20
grunge-era hipsters who have become downtown trip-hop-era achievers=20
in 1998, that's because such hipsters are the only hipsters who can=20
still afford the cost of living. And while the decade's changes in=20
the former Squatter Central are hardly an unqualified bad thing --=20
particularly, say, for anyone running out for a pint of milk at=20
midnight on Avenue B -- that makes it no less implausible to cast a=20
largely economic change in downtown's gentrified 'hoods (or their=20
equivalents in San Francisco and Chicago) as the coming of age of a=20
"generation," Wallpaper or otherwise.
None of this means that Wallpaper doesn't deserve attention, and not=20
just for the pictures. It also shines in its design writing (for=20
instance, a piece on New York's Pan Am -- now MetLife -- Building, an=20
icon of the high-flying early '60s), when it doesn't succumb to silly=20
glitz-mag-speak ("Party Girl loves the Pan Am Building"). And any=20
magazine that will publish a four-page travel feature on Detroit=20
earns heavy coolness points. I like Wallpaper just fine. I'm just not=20
sure it likes you and me very much.
See, the Times is right when it says that this exclusivity-minded,=20
Prada-happy magazine aims itself at a particular audience -- and it's=20
one that wants as little to do with the rest of us as possible. How=20
else to explain the technology-preview briefs touting gadgets that=20
help one avoid contact with the icky masses -- especially servants?=20
"If your secretary is unattractive and inefficient, try talking to a=20
good-looking dictaphone instead." The great advantage of the world's=20
first supersonic business jet is the minimal number of other people=20
on board: "With a cut-down crew and noisy neighbors firmly out of=20
sight, you can thrash out a plan for world domination." (And the true=20
magic of Motown? There's nobody there. "Empty spaces are Detroit's=20
defining motif.")
So who does make Wallpaper's cut? In the Times feature, editor Tyler=20
Br=FBl=E9 calls the readership "global nomads," young people who've got=20
"a degree of affluence all of a sudden ... [and] need advice on how=20
to live a sophisticated life style." A Wallpaper fan puts it another=20
way: "I can fly to New York and have more in common with someone I=20
meet at a restaurant than with my next-door neighbor ... there's=20
definitely a Wallpaper tribe." This glorious secession, credit-card=20
globalism, is perfectly in sync with the business-class insularity=20
that affects the Times too often.
Which explains the weird use of "generation" in the feature: As=20
defined by the choice of interview subjects, it evidently ranges in=20
age from 28 all the way up to 46. Of course, notwithstanding its=20
trend-spotting, "Generation Wallpaper" really has nothing to do with=20
Generation X, or Generation anything else: It is a generation defined=20
not by when its members were born but by when its money was, just as=20
it's a nation defined by its furniture, a neighborhood whose corner=20
store is an 800 number.

How neighborly are you going to get with the guy next door, anyway,=20
if the landlord's trying to get him to move out so he can raise the=20
rent? Why get close to him if he might leave a stain? In a Wallpaper=20
article describing new high-speed, high-class railways in Europe, the=20
author establishes the ickiness of old-fashioned proletarian rail=20
lines such as the RER in Paris by noting, "I looked up from the New=20
Yorker and noticed that the man sitting in front of me was in, well,=20
an advanced state of ejaculation." Get too close to non-Wallpaper=20
folks, Eustace, and they're liable to spurt all over your monocle.=20
"What difference will the new trains make?" the piece concludes,=20
"We'll be able to make more mobile calls ... and won't have to worry=20
about our crisp canvas Herm=E8s Victoria bags going 20 rounds with the=20
baggage-handlers-from-hell ... There'll also be cool new trains for=20
us to travel in ... All ejaculator-free, of course."
Ah, mais oui! Maybe it's just all the references to order and timely=20
trains here, but you begin to see why, taken to one extreme,=20
Wallpaper's severe, crisp modernism can seem a little creepy.
Much like the freshly scrubbed downtown that the Times' Style section=20
valorizes, Wallpaper's is a swellegant utopia, but it would be nice=20
if there were a little room in it for les autres, we noisy=20
ejaculators who have been gentrified out of the neighborhood, thrown=20
off the moving train and downsized off the flight crew. As it is,=20
it's a utopia where about 85,000 folks in good postal codes is all it=20
takes to make up a generation, one with way cool apartments and=20
stylin' boomerang coffee tables and a whole lot of elbow room.
SALON | Sept. 16, 1998