Why Online and Offline are Irrelevant in the 21st Century

It’s a bit strange when an offline world of some 35 years ago collides with today’s online world. Back then, in the mid- to late-1980s, I created, with a friend, a punk-poetry fanzine laced with record reviews and non-fiction writing. Called Rhetoric Farm, the ‘zine was distributed worldwide from our non-existent global headquarters in Tucson, Arizona.

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  • We interviewed RuPaul three decades before he became famous and found himself on TV.
  • We talked to Keith Haring (PDF) before he died.
  • We traded barbs with the Meat Puppets of Phoenix.
  • We were verbally abused by Henry Rollins of Black Flag and charmed John Doe of X.
  • We supported and published avant-garde, nonsensical poetry and stream-of-consciousness stories, which may or may not have been based on real experiences. To this day, I’m still not sure if those stories were real, fantasy, delusional or a bit of all three.
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One of the most important parts of Rhetoric Farm, besides the non-fiction writing, however, was the front cover. It caught your eye, or it didn’t.

The publication was set up like a magazine, so we needed artists willing to draw our front cover for free, a beer or two, or a paleta. And that is where the offline world of the 1980s happened to collide with the online world of 2019 and beyond.

It would seem the online and offline worlds have coalesced and become intertwined in such a way that both can live in the ether we call the internet.

Keith Haring (above) was undoubtedly the most famous artist we ever worked with. It was 1986 when Haring’s work was exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum. As part of the exhibit, Haring was on hand to talk about the work and later painted a mural. And we, intrepid Rhetoric Farm reporters, were there, too.

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We had brief chat, chronicled in Issue 7 (PDF, cover shown above) and he was kind enough to pen a quick drawing for the cover.

This was years before the internet became The Internet as we know it today. Technology, even with Moore’s Law, was limping forward and nothing compared to the rapid advances we see in the 2000s.

Laptop computers were 50 pound behemoths like the Kaypro. Desktop publishing consisted a Mac and dot-matrix printers.

So it was a pretty cool occurrence when this vintage, offline world collided with the online world.

Worlds Collide

Not long ago, but nearly 30 years after meeting Haring in Phoenix, I saw a post on Instagram, one of only a handful of social media in which I still participate, featuring Keith Haring’s artwork on a vintage t-shirt. I commented on the post and mentioned I had met Haring, interviewed him and that he had contributed to my fanzine. From there, a collaboration was born as our online and offline worlds collided.

It would seem the online and offline worlds have coalesced and become intertwined in such a way that both can live in the ether we call the internet. Time and space are no longer a barrier to new ventures and collaborations. Which leads us the Rhetoric Farm/Haring sweatshirt pictured below.

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“It’s now time to drop the ‘e’ from e-commerce and manage businesses seamlessly, as one commerce,” according to Bryan Forbes writing for the ANA. “This demand is no longer a nice to have; it’s a must have as shoppers now expect a variety of solutions to meet their needs.”

While the ANA article focuses on shopping, its reference point can be applied to my experience, as well. The notion of online and offline must become a singular, world experience. My anecdotal Instagram meeting is one way that demonstrates how an online discovery of something that hasn’t existed for 30 years can manifest itself in an offline, one-off sweatshirt, as well as a t-shirt featuring the work and a nod to Tucson’s long-defunct alternative record store Wrex Records (below), which was a frequent Rhetoric Farm advertiser.

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For me–and I’m not even a digital native–online and offline no longer have meaning. There’s a big messy co-existence between the two ideas that demonstrates neither exist in the same way they had in the past.

What’re your thoughts? Have the days of separating offline and online ceased to exist?

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