My New Article in Vice About San Francisco’s Startup Secret Society

March 7, 2016

SHHHH sign from the Latitude Society receiving room
The “SHHHH” sign in the Latitude Society receiving room

 

Today, I published a long article in Vice about the Latitude Society, a now-closed San Francisco art project that was developed by a company called Nonchalance. I loved the Latitude Society; it was one of the most brilliant, boundary-pushing, and genre-defying art pieces I have ever experienced. My article is intended to be both a critique and a celebration of the Latitude, and I poured my heart into it.

I’m proud of that article, but I had some narrative and space constraints while writing it. Here are some responses to questions people have asked me, which I wasn’t able to answer fully in the article. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter: @lydialaurenson.

 

Original Latitude Society invitation - front
The invitation card I received to the San Francisco House of the Latitude

 

Question #1: Did I talk to Jeff Hull in person after the Society closed?

I knew Jeff while the Society was running, and I worked on a couple of projects for Nonchalance (nothing big, so don’t give me too much credit!). As I explain in the article, I reached out to Jeff after he ended the project. I really think Jeff is brilliant, although I didn’t agree with all the decisions he made; I wanted to talk to him and get a better understanding of his perspective.

Jeff agreed to an email interview, and I sent him a whole bunch of questions. He answered three of the questions I asked. Here is his email to me, in full:

Hi Lydia,

I think most of your questions were covered in either the Long Read piece or my epilogue on the Latitude site. [Note from Lydia: he’s referring to this article written by Rick Paulas for Longreads. Jeff also posted an epilogue on the Latitude website, which isn’t loading right now, so there’s a screenshot here.]

The only thing that wasn’t really covered was the future of the content (IP).

> – Are you thinking of using the IP for anything else?

Yes, the Storyworld of the Latitude will emerge in other mediums. The book will be released, and there’s talk of developing a fiction film, and potentially a VR interactive series. It’s a rich universe that people really connect with, so there is no limit to the applications of it.

> – Do you feel that anything about the Society should remain secret?

I don’t think any of the released material needs to be a secret. It’s out there already. But there was so much unreleased content, concepts, teachings, and experiences. People really only glimpsed a small fraction of what the world was. These elements remain hidden.

> – Are there any specific pictures or recordings that you would like to get out into the world?

I’m fond of The Walk of the Guardians. [Note from Lydia: The Walk of the Guardians is an audio recording, and a Society member named The Mister was kind enough to send me a copy. There is about a minute of audio instructions here, while the longer Walk of the Guardians can be accessed here. You can listen from anywhere.]

Otherwise, I do not have much to add that hasn’t already been covered. Hope it goes well, and let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.

Thanks!
JBH

I sent Jeff some followup questions, and he never got back to me. It’s clear that the Latitude Society experience was ultimately painful for Jeff, so I understand why he wouldn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Still, I’m truly sad that I wasn’t able to include more of his perspective in my article.

Original Latitude Society invitation - back
The other side of the invitation card I received

 

Question #2: How could you post the Fable publicly?

I was so torn about this. The Fable was one of the most beautiful and moving aspects of the Latitude Society experience. But I knew that some Society members would be disappointed if I posted it. In the end (as I said in the article), Uriah Findley, who created the Fable, and Kat Meler, who narrated it, both told me that they wanted it out in the open. If they hadn’t said they wanted it out there, then I would have kept the recording secret.

I’ve been thinking about how sad it is that the press hasn’t been able to celebrate most of Nonchalance’s work, or credit the beauty they made. A big reason that I wrote my article is that I wanted the Nonchalance team to get credit where it’s due. And if the creators of the Fable want it to be publicly posted, then I think it’s a good gift for the world.

Question #3: Did you notice that TheLatitude.com is not loading?

Yes, it’s been down for a couple of weeks. For months after the Society closed, however, that website contained an “Epilogue” written by Jeff. I’ve got a screenshot here. I also have screenshots and text archives of a bunch of other stuff. If you were a Society member, or if you have some other reason to want these things, drop me a line: lydia dot laurenson at gmail dot com.

Question #4: I was in the Latitude Society and you didn’t interview me for your article. What gives?

Since the official Forums are gone, there’s no way to reach the entire community. I told a lot of people that I was working on this article, and I sent out some calls for interviews. Still, if you would have liked to be interviewed about the Society and you didn’t hear about my article in time, then I sincerely apologize. Feel free to leave comments here, if you like.

Question #5: You mentioned something I worked on, but you didn’t credit me. What gives?

There are a lot of people involved in Nonchalance and the Latitude who prefer to remain publicly unnamed. Discretion and privacy are obviously a big deal to this community, and so when writing about the Latitude, my default was to keep people anonymous if they didn’t grant explicit permission to be named. Also, there were a lot of people involved! But if I mentioned something that you worked on and you wanted credit, then I’m really sorry. Again, feel free to leave a comment here, if that helps.

Question #6: I’m your friend, and you didn’t invite me! What gives?

My biggest sadness about the Latitude Society is that so few people got to see it. I never expected it to close so suddenly. I literally have a stack of invitation cards left over.

If you’re my friend and I didn’t invite you, then it’s because:

1. You don’t live in San Francisco. I prioritized people who live here, because I thought they’d get the most out of the community.

2. You’re incredibly busy. As I wrote in the article, there were a bunch of people I invited who never even went through the first Latitude experience, because they were too busy. (For example, 100% of startup CEOs that I invited never walked through those doors.) So if you’re a busy person, then I probably figured that you would never activate the card.

3. I planned to invite you and didn’t get the chance.

But still.

Sorry.

 

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read my Vice article here. Thank you so, so much to everyone who gave me an interview or feedback on the article — especially Uriah Findley, Kat Meler, and Justin Oliphant. And special thanks to my editor Brian Merchant — that article wouldn’t have been nearly as good without his help.

 

Latitude Society slide
The slide at the entrance to the San Francisco House of the Latitude

3 responses to My New Article in Vice About San Francisco’s Startup Secret Society

  1. I still have a copy of The Walk of the Guardians if you need it. Unfortunately the Archive.org copy of The Latitude’s website doesn’t have a copy of the file.

    • Lydia Laurenson March 9, 2016 at 10:04

      Thank you so much for getting that to me! I’ll post the recording for others soon. :)

    • Lydia Laurenson March 11, 2016 at 08:53

      Thanks again! I’ve uploaded the audio files you sent me. For anyone who wants to experience The Walk of the Guardians: There is about a minute of audio instructions here, while the longer Walk of the Guardians can be accessed here.