Sunday, 15 July 2007

Midnight Assembly offers indie online network

ONE dark night Alex Matthews went hunting and came up empty-handed.
The teenager from Northland was armed only with a computer, a giant net, high ideals and a curious mind. His domain was the globe.
Matthews (pictured) is one of millions of young people who meets and makes friends, shares hopes and dreams, on the internet.
“This was during the time that I avoided school like the plague, and took some time to think about the world,” he says, thinking back to 2003. “I was on my computer looking for an organisation that represented the positive, proactive youth of the world.”
The then 15-year-old couldn’t find what he was looking for.
“I thought ‘hell, I have just found one of the world’s biggest niches’,” he says.
“I was so stoked. There was no question about it; I had to create the organisation.”
So he did.
It’s called Midnight Assembly.
Matthews (now 19) says the website is an online community for people who want to change the world.
If you can imagine Bebo, MySpace and even YouTube as pop music played on mainstream radio, Midnight Assembly is alternative music that would be aired on student radio by a DJ who does it for love not money.
Unlike the commercial sites, Midnight Assembly is a charitable trust, which raises money through grants, donation, sponsorship, fundraising events, “ambitious philanthropists” (take note Sam Morgan) and more.
It has three trustees. Matthews is chairman, Jason Hansen is secretary and Stephane Jansen is treasurer. Building of the site began in November 2003; it was launched in March 2004 and became a legal charity in 2005.
Matthews and Hansen met online, realised they had a shared vision and became friends.
Now they are trying to get their message out there, taking on the big sites. Like Taranaki Fresh Milk competing against Fonterra.
“The whole Bebo thing – I have no interest in them,” Hansen says. “They are good for keeping contact with people, but this (Midnight Assembly) is more than a communication device.”
Matthews agrees. “We can offer certain human emotions that the corporate online societies can’t. They exist to make a profit.”
To get a clearer idea of this online youth community, let’s look at the group’s pamphlet blurb.
“MA exists to create a new culture. A new generation of thinkers. A new future, which has self-improvement, self-awareness, proactivity and idealism at its heart,” it reads.
“More importantly, it’s not what we are – it’s what went want to be,” Matthews says, in person.
The idea is that this virtual world can step out of the computer to make things happen in real life.
“Youth cafes, art exhibitions, music concerts, software development, fashion, trading, an artists’ collaborate,” he lists the aims. “We only exist to make a useful service.”
Matthews fizzes when talking about Midnight Assembly, a secular site, whose name stems from a poem he wrote at age 12, and now relates to what he describes as “the most insomniac generation that ever existed”.
So these wide-awake livewires hope to inspire people to design and build architecturally progressive youth centres in prime inner-city locations around the world. These would have citizen’s advice bureaus, free community space for barbecue pits, sports and “whatever”.
“The new generations of Aotearoa and the wider world need a positive vision for the future of civilization. A holistic solution needs a holistic approach and it needs to flow and be exciting,” the pamphlet reads.
“We are a tribe in a global village,” Matthews says.
“We are creating the kind of culture that we think will be needed to secure a positive future for humanity,” he says.
Matthews now lives in Wellington, but “the where” is unimportant when you can instantly play backgammon with someone from Turkey, chat face-to-face via webcam with an old mate in London for free on Skype and zoom in on your own home using Google Earth.
The borders are coming down, as fast as the Berlin Wall, and internet communities are now real. The revolution of new thinkers is here, probably online, in a room somewhere, hunting in the dark.
And this time, is there, just waiting to be found.

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