WATCH | At the Internet Yami-Ichi in New York City, the past, present, and future of the internet converged in a real-life black market of over 100 vendors. The weird and wonderful aspects of the online world, usually existing solely on our screens, took shape in a former door factory in Queens.
The black markets's beginnings
While the internet serves as a hub of social interactions and offers an unparalleled browsing experience, it's often lacking in the face-to-face connections of reality. In pursuit of this missing element, the Internet Yami-Ichi, or the Internet Black Market, asks us to temporarily leave behind our obsession with phones and computers to instead browse the net in person.
The market, organized by a secret online society called IDPW, got its start in Tokyo in 2012.
A secret online society
On IPDW's vague website, they claim to be "a secret society on the internet that goes back more than 100 years."
According to their site, there are around ten members in the collective. One vendor at the market told me that she's been trying to infiltrate the group for a while. "That's partly why I'm involved in the Internet Yami-Ichi," she said.
An exchange of "internet-ish" goods
"Flea markets and the Internet are both fanatical and chaotic mixes of the amazing and the useless," the event's website explains, in a perfect description of the type of goods available at the market.
While ownership on the internet is a complex topic, it was much simpler at the Internet Yami-Ichi, where you could actually purchase a GIF or a meme. While some products celebrated the internet's early freedoms, others looked towards future advances in technology.
Something for everyone
With more than 100 vendors, the Internet Yami-Ichi offered a seemingly endless variety of products and experiences.
Soon after walking in, I was handed a flier that proclaimed, "WEATHER IS HAPPENING." Nearby, a table advertised manicures for your charging cables. One woman sold headpieces that she told me could "turn you into a meme." Another woman offered tarot readings with a special subreddit-themed deck. And there was the chance to participate in a physical time capsule or an online, password-protected one.
"Technology that enables others to see your dreams does not yet exist! Let's do it anyway!" read the sign at one booth. Clipboards with paper and pens were scattered around the table. A second sign invited guests to participate in a dream exchange.
Wearing your dream on your face
At the table, I met RoByn Thompson, a mixed media artist who initially got her start with face painting. She presented me with a choice to either write down my own dream or illustrate another's dream. "Or if you want, I can paint your dream on your face," she added.
I immediately opted for the face painting, and before I knew it, my face was transformed into a swamp scene with a menacing snowman on my left cheek. My extremely strange nightmare was now on display for the entire market to see.
At another table, you could project your favorite website onto a wall in Tokyo in real-time, an opportunity to advertise your own brand or simply broadcast memes to unsuspecting passersby across the world.
An intimidating confession booth
As I was watching the Tokyo street projection, someone ushered me into a dark room before I fully processed what was happening. Neon lights swirled around the walls, and a tablet cast a soft glow on the table in front of me.
"Confess your password!" a face on the tablet screamed at me. Completely thrown off, I stood there in silence. He yelled at me again. Feeling thoroughly intimidated, I whispered a fake password, relieved that I didn't succumb to the pressure of actually revealing a real one.
The tragic loss of ESC will be grieved by gamers all around the world.
Mourning the escape key
In a controversial move by Apple, the next MacBook will no longer have an physical escape key, instead utilizing the space for a touch bar. At the Internet Yami-Ichi, artists Linn Livijn Wexell and Rafael Ochoa invited attendees to join together in a touching moment of silence to honor the key's tragic and unfortunate demise.
Wexell and Ochoa also set up a shrine to the escape key, a display that included a Bible and candles that remained lit for the duration of the market. We can only hope that the framed escape key one day ends up in a museum where it belongs.
"The least advanced phone, ever"
In the spirit of removing seemingly crucial features from technology, Chris Sheldon created the NoPhone.
As the name implies, the NoPhone lacks a screen, a battery, or any other feature that you might find in a phone. "It's toilet bowl resistant, and you'll never have to charge it," explained Sheldon of the selling points for the $9.99 device.
And for $14.99, a model called the NoPhone SELFIE includes a small mirror for "real-time" selfies.
Ever wanted a selfie with a cronut or an elaborate milkshake without the lines or the calories? At the #InstagramCafe, you could do just that with their thorough selection of preserved trendy foods. "Do not eat the content," a sign warned.
It was a nice reminder that pictures on Instagram don't always tell the full story.
Internet-themed food and drink
For attendees hungry for something more substantial than Instagram likes, there was a variety of internet-themed food being sold at the market. Emoji rice balls were one especially adorable option.
A cocktail bar offered up inspired selections like "<br>," a "Netscape Margarita," and "Forex on the Beach." The latter's price changed in real time using randomized software.
And after getting a drink, you could join the GIF dance party taking place in the back room.
Since its beginning in Tokyo, the Internet Yami-Ichi has been held in cities across the world, including Barcelona, Moscow, London, and New Orleans. This was the event's second occurrence in New York.
Check out more pictures from the Internet Yami-Ichi!