“We think in public,” Clive Thompson tells the audience at #IF14. Author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Lives for the Better, Thompson makes a compelling case that our new technology actually enables us to become better thinkers.
Critics often say that our over-connected world is causing us to be less mindful, but Thompson argues the opposite: it can improve our intelligence.
One of the strongest illustrations of how technology causes us to become more thoughtful is the audience effect, Thompson says. It happens when we Tweet, post on Facebook, or send text messages. “Presenting, talking, or communicating in front of an audience actually has an effect on us— we start thinking harder,” he says.
Thompson has seen this on the subway. “It’s interesting to watch someone struggle to compose a Tweet,” he says. “There’s a lot of thought put into it.”
Another way technology is improving how we think is by connecting us with other thinkers, making us part of an intellectual community. Students asked to post to Wikipedia for a class assignment ended up feeling a sense of accountability for their work — which, in turn, caused them to put more care into the final product.
“One of the great delights of our modern age is that it decreases our isolation,” Thompson says. When we think together, we think better.
At Debbie Millman’s presentation at IdeaFestival 2014, we are again reminded of the profound importance of failure in living a creative life.
When she was a young girl, Millman imagined a life “like Mary and Rhoda’s” on the Mary Tyler Moore show. She wanted to be a career-woman — little did she know just how complicated her own journey would be.
Millman is now President Emeritus of AIGA, the largest professional association for design in the world. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine and Co-Founder and Chair of the world's first Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting, "Design Matters," the first podcast about design on the Internet. In 2011, the show was awarded a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award.
She is the author of six books on design and branding. Last year, an exhibition of her visual essays debuted at the Chicago Design Museum.
But before all that, Millman traveled a rocky road. Her work was met with many rejections. AIGA was initially a road block, and early on, Millman was humiliated by criticism she received on a 2003 weblog about her role in giving a design award.
Here at IdeaFestival, she narrates her career trajectory — with design, journalism, business, marketing, and leadership stepping-stones — to illustrate how each mis-step has created a new opening.
So often, we are our own worst enemy. Those who are successful, Millman says, “didn’t determine what was impossible before it was possible. Just the possibility of failing turns into something self-fulfilling.”
Humans, Millman says, are like computers. “The computer will do absolutely nothing unless commanded to do so.” It’s only our perceptions of our abilities that limit us.
Whether you’re starting out young, or reconfiguring your life mid-way, there is always time to “rewrite the possibilities of what comes next.”
“Do what you love.” Never put off your dreams. Never underestimate the “strength of imagination.”
Millman puts it best:
“Don’t compromise, And don’t waste time. Start now, Not 30 years from now, Not 20 years from now, Not 2 weeks from now, Now.”
Thrivals is using Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist as the basis of Thrivals 4.0, using everything from evolutionary biology to economics to study the principle of exchange, and in particular, asking and answering the question, how do ideas develop?
They have sex of course.
And they are emergent.
Dr.Sugata Mitra, whose Hole in the Wall project inspired Slumdog Millionaire asks "can children, left to themselves, teach themselves?"
As it happens, he has some experience with that question. Feeling unhappy with the vast slums surrounding him in India while he was teaching privileged children, many years ago began experimenting. He first put a DIY ATM (since banks had experience with outdoor computers) in a building wall.
Then he left the country.
Coming back in few months, Dr. SugataMitra, chuckling at the thought, said that the children immediately told him "they wanted a faster processor, a better mouse." But because they had been given a computer that only spoke English, they had also, to his surprise, learned English. He shows the Thrival attendees at IdeaFestival 2011 pictures of a 10 year old boy and his seven year old pupil clustered around the terminal, learning.
At the end of five years, from 1999 - 2004, the children's literacy shot up in every location where Hole in the Wall operated - "to the level of an average office secretary."
He next challenged school children to speak well enough so that speech-to-text software on a computer would output understandable English. In his absence, the students had, again, made use of the Internet downloading software with English speakers, and taught themselves the speak the language with an English - not Indian - accent.
He recounts how Tamil-speaking children in southern India taught themselves advanced genetic concepts, and heard from one misguided child such student that "apart from the knowledge that the improper replication of the DNA causes disease, we have understood nothing else."
Dr. Mitra clearly believes in the value of the "grandmother effect," and uses it to great effect, asking children to act as grandmothers - to simply nod affirmatively behind students and say, "isn't that it wonderful. How did you arrive at that?"
C.C. Chapman tweeted a video of the Granny Cloud linked above.
Children will self organize around the big questions, not what is the Eiffel Tower? But who built the Eiffel Tower and why? Why do we dream? "You know," they've said, "there's this Freud and he...."
Self-organizing systems that discuss big questions and important ideas? Sounds a lot like the IdeaFestival.
Over time, Dr. Mitra has come to believe based on his work that "education is a self-organizing system with learning as an emergent phenomena," and that 1) reading comprehension, 2) information searching and 3) systems of belief are the three parts critical to the success of an education. But if "children can learn to read by themselves, then the educational system can be turned upside down."
Paul Gilster reflects on the latest information from the space-based observatory Kepler, which in a period of months has trebled the number of planets outside of our own solar system. Its haul of 1,200+ candidate bodies includes five that are believed to be near-Earth sized planets in the "habitable zone" of their parent suns, or orbits where liquid water is likely to be present. Follow up observations on the ground will further characterize these finds.
Above left is the field of view for Kepler. And at right, candidate planets are identified by their approximate location in the field of view. To put this in perspective, fifteen years ago we knew of no other worlds besides the nine described textbooks. Isn't it amazing that as soon we are able to detect planets elsewhere in the Milky Way, there they are?
Images: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech (l) and NASA/Wendy Stenzel (r)