Brain Pickings

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28 APRIL, 2011

Human Planet: BBC Unravels Earth’s Secrets


What rainforest tribes in the jungle have to do with reindeer swimmers in the Arctic.

What are the secrets of this amazing planet we call home, and what exactly is our place in it? This question has been tickling humanity’s curiosity in a profound way since time immemorial and, now, the BBC is making an unprecedented effort to answer it.

Human Planet — an ambitious, jaw-dropping, exquisitely cinematic series exploring mankind’s rich and complex relationship with nature across the globe, out this week on DVD, Blu-ray and video-on-demand.

Filmed on more than 80 locations across remote lands, underwater worlds and aerial heights, it covers everything from the first recorded footage of the world’s last uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian rainforest…

It’s important for humanity these people exist. They remind us it is possible… to live in a different way.” ~ Jose Carlos Meirelles

…to fox hunting with a golden eagle in Mongolia…

…to extreme fishing at Victoria Falls…

…to the magnificent swim of 3,000 reindeer across the icy Arctic waters.

At once exhilarating and profoundly humbling, Human Planet is the kind of journey you go on and never fully come back from, your worldview and self-conception forever changed by the intensity and richness of the experience.

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28 APRIL, 2011

Breaking In: Advice from 100 Advertising Rockstars


Phoenix from the ashes of advertising, or what the big idea has to do with collaboration.

It’s a tumultuous and uncertain age for many industries and cultural facets as we grapple with difficult questions about the future of publishing, education, art and many other aspects of humanity. Media and advertising are among the industries most deeply unsettled by “the digital age” and all the new modalities of social communication. But if the industry itself is shaken by a profound identity crisis, unsure of what creative merit means anymore, what’s left for those hungry and wide-eyed young guns looking for a dream job in that industry? That’s exactly what Breaking In, an ambitious new anthology by William Burks Spencer, explores through over 100 interviews with advertising insiders, who share experience-tested, credibility-stamped insights on building an exceptional portfolio that will get you hired.

The project took over four years to complete and, though certainly a boys’ club, features a formidable roster of agency rockstars the likes of Dan Wieden, Gerry Graf, David Droga, Bob Greenberg, and Ari Merkin.

What a lot of people are looking for these days is 360-degree thinking. So I’m looking for someone who is not bound by medium but bound by the idea, and media is there to support that idea.” ~ Ji Lee, Creative Director, Google Creative Lab, New York

If the writing is absolutely brilliant, people will forgive anything. We all hear stories of this great guy that was discovered by writing concepts on a napkin, and I think that’s awesome. I actually know that great guy. But that’s probably in keeping with the rest of his or her personality, naturally. It can happen, but if you’re one of those people you probably already know it, and you’re not reading this.” ~ Monica Taylor, Creative Director, Wieden+Kennedy, Portland

It’s an interesting time. The industry has changed so much, but clearly, the principles in the industry are still very much the same. But there are so many different influences now. We can influence so many different industries and collaborate with more industries. I think it makes it more exciting.” ~ David Droga, Founder & Creative Chairman, Droga5, New York

Ideas are really important, but the way that the traditional side of the business values “the big idea” is completely out of balance with the way that you actually produce work in the digital space. I say all the time, ‘The Greatest idea in the world, unproduced, has no value whatsoever. A mediocre idea, produced, has some incremental value.’ So why is the value always placed on the big idea when getting this into the world is so important?” ~ Michael Lebowitz, Founder & CEO, Big Spaceship, New York

(Sound familiar?)

These are strange days for our business. Massive shifts are taking place and nobody is entirely sure what the agency of the future will look like. I imagine there’s a ton of pressure on students to demonstrate their ability to keep up with everything new. But proceed with caution here. Sometimes, the best idea isn’t about new media, it’s simply a new idea. There’s no substitute for a smart human insight.” ~ Ari Merkin, Executive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami

Breaking In comes with a fantastic companion site, where interview excerpts and award-winning work by the interviewees are being posted daily.

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28 APRIL, 2011

HyperCities: Every Past is a Place


What 17th-century Manhattan has to do with Peru’s grid and the Renaissance in Berlin.

We love cities, maps and urban storytelling. So we’re all over HyperCities — a digital research and educational platform for exploring the layered histories of cities and public spaces, based on the idea that “every past is a place.”

The fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.”

From a digital recreation of Manahatta in 1609 to an archival print of Berlin’s 1772 geometric grid, the project is absolutely fascinating and a treasure trove of urban time travel.

Most recently, HyperCities mapped real-time voices from Cairo using social media, offering an entirely different way to experience the news, not by digesting static newswires and frontpage headlines but by actively hearing the reality of the people on the ground — something last week’s Tweets from Tahrir tried to capture in a different medium.

The project, which received a Google Digital Humanities Award last year, is the brainchild of Todd Presner, Yoh Kawano, and David Shepard and is a collaboration between UCLA and USC.

HyperCities is currently available for 19 cities, including London, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City. You can contribute to the project by adding your own georeferenced map — here’s how.

via @kirstinbutler

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27 APRIL, 2011

Animated Infographic: Unspilling the Gulf Oil


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill, one of the largest environmental disasters in history. On Monday, we revisited photographer Edward Burtynsky’s gripping Oil series as a visceral reminder of just how dependent we are on this highly politicized resource. Today, Brooklyn-based animator Chris Harmon approaches the same subject from an entirely different angle: A numbers-driven infographic animation illustrating the exact scale of the spill by exploring what could’ve been done with the 205,000,000 (that’s million) gallons that poured into the Gulf.

The 205 million gallons of oil lost in the Gulf is the same amount the United States consumes in less than 7 hours.”

For a more serious and in-depth look at the oil economy, you won’t go wrong with Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.

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