The new is not as simple or straightforward as we might think. Like everything else, newness is constructed. It does not just happen, but happens to serve something or someone, somehow. The construction of the new involves some paradox, as Deleuze, among others points out. The really new thing, which is what all newness wants to be, is the sort of thing that is unconstructable-it is literally inconceivable before it arrives. This complicates that arrival because being inconceivable tends to lead to recognition problems. Consequently, the really new thing is already a little old before anyone figures out that it is there, before it is recognized and understood as a really new thing. And so the thing hailed from the outset as new is pretty much guaranteed to be not actually new, since such fabrication spoils the surprise that characterizes the ‘actually’ new.
Newness is equal parts difference and currency. Being constructed, being an object of intention with great value, the new is often over-imagined. It can be overheated but undercooked. When this happens a condition results which we could call the ‘pneu.’ The pneu is that strand of the new which places the greatest value on currentness (as opposed to difference-see the Gnu in Download Distraction™ 4).The pneu is as lite as air; in fact, its what’s in the air, as found on those lists of what’s-hot-vs.-what’s-not. Much of what made up the first wave of the e.conomy excitement turned out to be pneu, for example, dreamed up mainly for the IPO and then immediately forgotten or traded away once its useful newness had run its course. Something cooked up for its own sake to be new has no value beyond that, and certainly no lasting value-particularly when the value is derived from newness itself. Real values are held, not traded. Since the new is fleeting by definition, real values cannot be based on it.
This provenance produces a different sort of expectation for the pneu. That which exists only to be new must of course be temporary, as newness is anyway, and so the pneu is more likely to be outrageous for that reason, which in turn ensures that temporariness. The pneu doesn’t fool anyone, but it doesn’t really try. Yet our regard for the new is such that its fleeting entertainment value alone is often sufficient to keep the pneu afloat long enough to become old. Which-no coincidence-is about the length of a fashion season. In fact, the ‘season,’ as a measurement of time unrelated to the tilt of the earth, has become a standard of duration throughout the culture. The attunement to an experience of fashions, of the vogue, of what’s in, the rage, the fad-and their passing-is the prime mover in the cultural marketplace today and carries the values of the fashion industry into all sorts of places that should know better.
Architecture is one of those places. Because of architecture’s longer incubation time, it doesn’t see as much of the pneu as other venues, but the cultural effects of the pneu’s prevalence have touched architecture to the extent that architecture remains a part of the culture. Architecture as a built presence may not yet be understood seasonally, but as design it is no stranger to the sense and expectations of fashionableness, and in design the pneu is increasingly common. In fact, as we discuss in Download Distraction(tm) 6, some design is so slaved to the fashion cycles that it never gets past its pneuness, floating away before the next season can dis it. Such design seems happy with that fate, further identifying it as pneu in the first place.