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Find the Future Lowdown: Part 2

May 22, 2011

Living just seven tenths of a mile from the NYPL’s flagship Stephen A. Schwarzman building, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to admire its magnificent marble façade, photograph the iconic lions outside, visit its gigantic reading room, and utilize its steps for walking breaks. The building houses “one of the world’s preeminent public resources for the study of human thought, action, and experience.” It’s awesome in every way.

Long lines for checking in didn’t matter. What could matter? It’s true that after waiting for fifteen minutes or so in the N–Z line, I was told I might be found over at the Fs. I headed back out to wait at the end of a new line for a few minutes before a security guard told me I could skip ahead and explain my status as a dual surname citizen. And that, double line waiting, ranks as the worst thing that happened all night. It was just that special an experience.

After a rousing dialogue between “Patience” and “Fortitude”—so named, of course, after the lions that stand guard outside the library—we were asked to choose a Team and follow our new leader. (I chose Patience. I should say that I am not a patient person. I am definitely a person with fortitude. I chose Team Patience as an act of fortitude—my attempt to commit myself to both Teams.) We streamed up the stairs to the Rose Reading Room as a sweeping film score welcomed us in. The RRR normally looks like this (photo taken from the NYPL website):

On Friday, it looked like this:

Flash photography and cell phone usage and riotous cheering and perching on bookshelves and standing on tabletops to give freshly written declarations are usually punishable offenses in the RRR, which is why I felt like a Naughty Bibliophile, alternately euphoric and punch drunk.

Our introduction to the game, delivered by renowned game designer and mistress of our overnight madness Jane McGonigal, overwhelmed every bit of my epic-loving fantasy-fantasizing change-the-world-hoping self. Plus, she’s on TED. She knew how to stroke us. Once indoctrinated into the “seven secrets” that defined the game, we split up into Team Patience and Team Fortitude, and got to work.


Step One. From Team ranks, create a squad. You sit, everyone around you smiles, you show your hand (I announced that I’d brought outlet extenders), and you form a squad. Eerily easy, considering how painfully difficult the process is in school settings. Number one Big Idea for changing the future … figure out how to help kids form squads like this. Just look around. Smile. There: squadmates.

Step Two. Name your squad. Actually, I don’t think that was a rule. We just did, because it seemed like the thing to do. Squad Pluto: a landscape architect, a museum exhibit designer, a standup comedian, a former military flight attendant, an education theater grad student, a performance artist, and me. On the one hand, I count myself extremely lucky that I sat at a table with these fine mates. On the other, I sense that everyone feels as lucky.

Step Three. Find artifacts. Using a phone app that offered clues as to the meaning and whereabouts of objects, we searched the library, located the objects, read about them, photographed them, exclaimed to each other how unbelievably cool it was that we had uninterrupted access to the objects, scanned the QR codes that had been placed next to them, and returned to the Rose Reading Room to perform quests associated with each.

Let me say that another way.

Late on a Friday night, long after the regular patrons had gone home and the library had closed its doors, we roamed the dim hallways in squads of five, six, seven, and more, interpreting clues and locating objects and artifacts of great value. Once we discovered the objects, we absorbed their power and significance, discussed with each other why they represented the most influential thoughts and moments in history (for better or worse), made our way back to the Reading Room, and unlocked quests for each. Those quests tasked us to apply each object’s historical significance to a Big Idea of the future, a vision for something better, healthier, more equitable, more peaceful. Stories, essays, lists of demands, illustrations, photographs, declarations, ballots, speeches—the quests invited the range of creative output.

More to come …

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  1. Jeanette LeBlanc permalink

    Kenny Mikey sounds amazing (loved the PageTurners info).


  2. Jeanette LeBlanc permalink

    Suzanne, thanks for sharing more about this visionary game-based adventure at the New York Public Library. “Those quests tasked us to apply each object’s historical significance to a Big Idea of the future, a vision for something better, healthier, more equitable, more peaceful.” (Jane McGonigal seems pretty extraordinary too.) Like an incredibly cool game for genius library fans.


  3. That’s funny, Kenny, because when, after 20 minutes of searching for the person attached to your name, I learned that you just happened to be the most aptly dressed and media ready and kid inspiring guy in the Rose Room, I said to myself (and, I think, to you, too) HOT DANG!


  4. Well, hot dang! The person who helped me find my future just happened to be the most prolific writer in the whole 500? Yeah, that’s cool! And so are you! reliving the madness though your words – thanks!


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