American Culture

And now, let’s get 2014 started: Benjamin Bratton’s epic anti-TED Talk TED Talk

TEDx: It’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” for the Techoliterati crowd.

Happy New Year, a few hours early, from the staff of Scholars & Rogues. Have fun tonight, but please be careful. Big holiday occasions are amateur night and we don’t want you getting run over by drunken idiots. It goes without saying that we don’t want you being drunken idiots.

That said, I’m going to ask you to take ten minutes to read this (or watch video, which is below). It’s Benjamin Bratton’s TEDx Talk in San Diego a couple weeks ago, where he was apparently invited by TED to stomp the balls off everything they do and stand for. It is not only the smartest thing you’ll read today, it’s one of the most important things you’ll read all year – and that goes for whichever year you read it in.

Normally I like to digest thinking like this and then post a reaction that adds my insights. I may do that yet. But for now I mainly find myself not thinking of things to add. Mostly I just find myself applauding.

Bratton doesn’t just take apart what’s wrong with TED, he does so in a way that illuminates – in a classical sense of the word – what is wrong with our culture. Instead of rolling up our sleeves and immersing ourselves in the hard thinking needed to transform our world, we indulge ourselves in cynical, feel-good placebo intellectualism that actually makes things worse.

Read it now or watch the video. You’ll begin 2014 a smarter person.

A snip, and whatever you do, don’t miss the last line.

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be re-arranged and re-programmed. It’s not true.

“Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

One TED speaker said recently, “If you remove this boundary, …the only boundary left is our imagination.” Wrong.

If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions).  Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration,” it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of de-mystification and re-conceptualization: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins

At a societal level, the bottom line is if we invest things that make us feel good but which don’t work, and don’t invest things that don’t make us feel good but which may solve problems, then our fate is that it will just get harder to feel good about not solving problems.

In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it’s harmful. It’s diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation

Keep calm and carry on “innovating”… is that the real message of TED? To me that’s not inspirational, it’s cynical.

In the U.S. the right-wing has certain media channels that allow it to bracket reality… other constituencies have TED.

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