Facebook is a discordant marketplace-of-ideas battle royale unlike anything in human history. Most of it is inane (or worse) dreck. But some of it is brilliant – enlightening, uplifting, empathetic. If we could get rid of the 99.99% that isn’t we’d have a foundation for a better world.
But we can’t. So for now we’ll have to make do with my picks for the best things therein.
Brandon Stanton is a photographer and storyteller supreme. Or rather, he’s supremely talented at getting people to share their stories. He walks around NYC (and these days he jaunts about the world on occasion, too), takes pictures of those he sees, and lets them talk about their lives. Sometimes it’s harrowing, sometimes it’s informative, sometimes it’s whimsical and funny, but it’s always authentic and 100% free of judgment.
Actor, writer, and now First Citizen of the Internet. Stanton avoids judgment, but Takei brings an up-front agenda to the table in his campaign to promote fairness, equality, hope, dignity, and basic human decency. You may not agree with all he has to say – he wouldn’t ask you to – but if you engage with him in good faith you’ll come away a better, more thoughtful person.
I present these together because their yin and yang exploration of the Modern Era is, I think, an essential study of a critically important moment in our history.
If I might abstract a bit, The Vault of the Atomic Space Age is dedicated to a presentation of 20th Century Modernism more or less on its own terms. The About brief describes it as “Art, fashion, design, technology, mid-century style, architecture, etc from the Atomic Space Age,” and while that’s true as far as it goes it undersells the sophistication with which the curator presents the vision of a society ascendant, winner of the World Wars and a bit heady on its new status as world leader. Its fetishization of the nuclear sublime and the grandiosity with which it sees its destiny is critical for us today because of the story told by the gap between the vision and what we now know of the reality 70 years on.
There’s a temptation to say the artifacts are presented objectively and unironically, but what we know makes that impossible.
If Vault indulges the techophilia of a supremely self-confident (and self-involved) culture, The Man Must Burn takes a grittier view. Denver’s own Matt Boggs shares his love affair with the 20th century’s dark side, collecting and archiving a staggering array of artifacts from the 1900s (seriously, I have no idea how he finds some of this stuff), focusing on the Mid-Century Modern era – everything from art to celebrity photos to comic books to space and war photography to cars to the sparkling retro-futurism of the 1950s and ’60s. As I look at the page now we have 1940s warplanes, Elvis, a link to a History.com article on the Spanish Flu-incited spiritualism craze and then some. Describing its breadth and depth is nearly impossible, but its visual impact, its persistent raid on the collective psyche of our rage to military, economic, and cultural empire, is everything the Internet ought to be.
Loosely affiliated with NASA, APOD is just what the name says. Each day we’re presented with a photo (usually breathtaking) of some corner of the cosmos, along with a well-crafted narrative telling us what we’re seeing. It’s hard to come away without being awed and informed.
We probably all have our favorites, and we like them our own reasons. These are mine, and I’d enjoy hearing about yours in the comments.