As far as I know, there’s only one flea market in the world where you can
- be diagnosed with “Selfie syndrome”
- eat “encrypted dumplings,” and;
- watch a livestream of a vendor’s dad sleeping in Tokyo.
That market is the Internet Yami-Ichi, a regular pop-up event described by its organizers as “a flea market for ‘browsing’ face-to-face.” There’ve been a handful of Internet-Yami-Ichi’s around the world at this point; they’re are organized by or in consultation with IDPW, a collective and “secret society on the internet that goes back more than 100 years.” In New York’s case, Chris Romero, Eri Takane, and exonemo organized the event. Yami-Ichi’s direct translation is “black market,” but as the German arts group transmediale pointed out, “Internet Obsessives Market” might be more accurate.
The IDPW’s first Yami-Ichi took place in Tokyo in 2012. This weekend, New York hosted its own Yami-Ichi, one of a number taking place over the next few weeks
The New York event was the first Internet Yami-Ichi in the U.S. It took place at the Knockdown Center, in Queens, and was the biggest event of its kind so far, with around 130 vendors participating.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived. What I ended up finding was definitely an art event; but in a silly, kind of incisive, and sometimes useless way (I mean that positively, I promise).
On Saturday afternoon I arrived in Queens, prepared to see what the internet had sprouted.
The market was arranged in several aisles and a couple of rectangles of desks, with a stage at one end of the large warehouse space, and some larger projects (one involved a drone and a green screen) on the other end.
My first purchase was a book of poetry put together by Allison Parrish, a writer, programmer, and game designer. Parrish generated the poetry with a program that randomly combined parts of two 19th century books: one on astrology and the other a children’s book about the ocean. They’re accompanied by images of space from NASA’s outer planet probes. It’s the same method she used to set up her Ephemerides Twitter bot.
After that I was drawn to a large tent covered with flyers that read “RINZO SHIMIZU GAZING, JUST $1.”
I paid a dollar and stepped into the tent. There were three people inside, but they left within a couple of minutes. Projected on the a hanging tarp was a livestream of a man sleeping with his back to the camera. The sign explained that the man was Rinzo Shizumi, the vendor’s dad, who was in Tokyo.
It was 2 in the afternoon, 3a.m. Tokyo time. On the floor there were tubes of wood glue, a bowl, and many identical flyers that explained how to watch Rinzo sleep:
The vendor in front of the tent was Qanta Shimizu. Qanta has lived in New York for two years now, but he’s from Tokyo, where Rinzo, his dad, still lives . Qanta admitted very frankly that “it’s my hobby to monetize my dad. ” At the first Yami-Ichi Qanta sold conversations with Rinzo. Qanta tried to convince him to visit New York, but Rinzo wasn’t into the idea. So, instead, Qanta was selling people the experience of watching Rinzo sleep in Tokyo.
Wood glue, it turns out, takes a while to dry. Or at least, it does if you slather a lot of it on your hand like I did. I waited in the tent for about 15 minutes, watching the old man sleep, and it turned out to be a really meditative experience. Maybe lots of wood glue is the key to good Rinzo Gazing after all.
Quite relaxed, I decided had to pay a visit to someone I’ve spoken to online before, the internet weather man behind WEATHER IS HAPPENING, who’d travelled from Boston to forecast and urge people to repent. WEATHER MAN (that’s how he stylizes it) is a trans-dimensional being in a human host, who takes government weather data and provides forecasts for the Boston area on Facebook and his website. Usually he only forecasts for Boston, but he was making a rare exception for the day. He recognized me and excitedly greeted me as the “man of the hour” as I walked up, which was very validating.
WEATHER MAN and the WEATHER MISTRESS (pictured above) were there with a couple of other weather members, decked out in lab coats and “THE OFFICIAL WEATHER IS HAPPENING WEATHER TEAM SUNGLASSES.” They were even kind enough to give me a pair.
Next I stopped off at W0bMD, which was run by the New York art/games collective and gallery Babycastles. They offered the chance to be haphazardly diagnosed by an “internet doctor,” based on a new patient form filled with pretty incomprehensible questions. Naturally, I filled out a new patient form:
After a few minutes in the waiting room (a series of overturned translucent garbage cans) I was seen by “Dr.” Krissy Rubbles, who told me she’d been a doctor for “probably a few years.” My health situation seemed unclear at first, and based on a cursory glance at my intake form Dr. Rubbles told me things didn’t look good. But the prognosis shook out okay: it turned out I was in good health, and was in fact 1.5 months pregnant (apparently via “a gift from above”)!
Rubbles also told me that, with a couple exceptions, almost everyone diagnosed so far had been mostly healthy. But when I walked by the makeshift clinic again later that afternoon I saw two different men with waiting room stools on their heads. A little digging on Instagram revealed one of them had a virus:
Prescribed with pre-natal vitamins (carrot juice contained in tiny edible spheres that cost $1), I moved on.
Having discovered my new pregnancy, I was pretty hungry, so I wandered over to an internet bakery. On the way, I noticed a Mark Zuckerberg body pillow.
At the bakery I ordered a “Raspberry Pi” and asked whether the baker was an internet baker most of the time. He explained that he was just a normal chef by trade, and I ate my snack (it was good). When I glanced at the napkin it came with, I realized I’d agreed to terms of service as casually as I scroll the the ones that everyone ignores when they install almost any new software.
Full, I moved on, and stopped off briefly at a booth where software engineer David Huerta was selling “surveillance sanitizer” in the form of the privacy-prioritizing operating system Tails. I didn’t buy any sanitizer, but Fusion editor Kashmir Hill did. It looks like this:
Not long after that I was able to catch a glimpse of Internet Dude (aka Toshikuni Yamaguchi). Internet Dude dons a white bodysuit and crocs, then wanders the market offering his various services for a cost. Among other things, you can have him retweet you (yell a message once, $3) or act as a twitter bot (repeat your message for a while, $10). I paid $3 to have him retweet the message “All the usual tote bags are here.”
It was a stunningly similar experience to most of the jokes I make on Twitter: he RT’ed it, and nobody laughed.
Facing a single RT and no laughs, I headed towards another aisle. On the way I saw the makers of the NoPhone, a plastic block that lets you maintain the familiar feel of a phone in your hand but without a screen or any smartphone capabilities, hawking their wares. There was also a silent auction for several URLs, the best (and most expensive) of which was useless.tech.
I ended up visiting a booth occupied by the TH CH Meme Traders from the year 2033. I paid a nominal fee to view what they described as “the rarest Pepe, ” created specially for the event. I wasn’t permitted to take a photo, but Pepe was wearing a red and blue shirt. The drawing was abstract. Pepe looked almost like he was melting, but pleased, and a grey hammer and sickle hovered to the right of him. The entire thing was sparkly and holographic.
I wandered on, past a lot of emoji-related illustrations, and decided I ought to be diagnosed with something new. I visited Social Clinic, and based on a few questions, mostly about my social media use, was told I “scored 0 in Awkwardness” and “scored 100 in Selfie syndrome,” which is partially correct. I received a sticker for my time, but it was placed on my back, and soon fell off.
It was a little tight across the chest, but otherwise very comfortable. Sinders promised it violates all school dress codes.
Finally, I took the opportunity to send some spam mail (a small slice of meat product spam, mailed in an envelope courtesy of Taeyoon Choi) to my brother. He doesn’t know it’s coming yet, so please don’t tell him.
Very tired, I made for the exit. On my way out I checked in with Qanta, who said Rinzo had turned over in his sleep, and that he was on track to make more money than he had at the first Tokyo Yami-Ichi.