Brain Pickings

The Museum of Possibilities


What balloons have to do with civic engagement and open-source cities.

We love public space, that priceless petri dish of human interaction. It’s the lifeblood of any city, and the reason we left LA for New York. Unfortunately, much of it remains un- or underutilized, with cities failing to engage people in interacting with and in public space.

To prevent this disconnect when inaugurating its Quartier des Spectacles, the city of Montréal came up with an exceptionally inspired solution: The Museum of Possibilities — a wonderful daylong pop-up installation inviting visitors to share their dreams and visions for the future of the space by jotting down their ideas on pieces of paper and attaching them to colorful balloons.

Others could then vote on the ideas with stickers, collectively choosing the best visions for their shared space.

More than a mere art installation, The Museum of Possibilities became a playful yet actionable poll of public opinion, turning the possibilities into probabilities as the people of Montréal told their city, directly and tangibly, what they’d like to do with the space — a sort of physical, life-sized version of Give a Minute.

UPDATE: Per the comment below, the team behind the project has kindly stepped up: Melissa Mogiat, Mouna Andraos and Kelsey Snook. Find them and more of their fantastic work at Living With Our Time.

via Jake Barton of Local Projects

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PICKED: A Documentary About Street Artist Ben Eine


We have a soft spot for street art and love the work of London’s Ben Eine, so this new microdocumentary about his work by filmmaker Abbie Brandon, following Eine as his paints two murals in East London, made us swoon.

The first mural, Pro Pro Pro, was a play on Eine’s Anti Anti Anti, painted a week earlier on the opposite wall, upon iconic graphic designer Neville Brody‘s suggestion as part of the Anti Design Festival.

The second, Calculate, is a rework of Eine’s famous Vandalism piece and was commissioned by Moniker Art Fair, where Eine exhibited the following week.

More of Eine’s exceptional work can be found in Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art — the must-have street art bible we featured last year.

via Reaction!

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Bill Gates on Vaccines: An RSA Animation


We’re big fans of The RSA and their wonderful sketchnote illustrations of big ideas by big thinkers. Despite the signature fun format, their latest installment deals with a very serious issue surrounded by a tragic amount of public misinformation: Vaccines. The 4-minute animation distills the gist of Bill Gates’ 24-page annual letter, which focuses on the Gates Foundation’s vaccination advocacy as well as their work in HIV/AIDS, malaria, agriculture and education.

I like to say that vaccines are miracles. They’re miracles because giving children a couple of drops or a shot in the arm can prevent some of the worst childhood diseases for a lifetime. And that, for me, is a miracle.” ~ Bill Gates

Polio cases are 99% down. There are only 4 countries in the world where polio's transmission has never been stopped: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. Vaccination has the power to make polio the second disease in the history of humanity, after small pox, to be fully eradicated.

For more on the subject of vaccines and misinformation, we highly recommend the excellent new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear — a bold debunking of the misguided anti-vaccine movement, rooted in equal parts science and social psychology to reveal how media sensationalism and PR-hungry health authorities are obscuring some of modern medicine’s greatest achievements to a dangerous effect.

via Tactical Philanthropy via @simonmainwaring

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Merchants of Culture: A Meditation on the Future of Publishing


What Gogol, Seth Godin and TED have to do with the fate of the written word.

The year has barely begun and already it’s been a tremendously disruptive month for the publishing industry, with a number of noteworthy developments that bespeak a collective blend of optimism, fear and utter confusion about what the future holds for the written word as its purveyors try to make sense — and use — of digital platforms. Here are just a handful of important, potentially game-changing, events in the publishing world that took place in the past month alone:

  • Amazon finally unveiled the highly rumored and anticipated Kindle Singles, a new format for non-fiction works between 10,000 and 30,000 words — that’s longer than a magazine article and shorter than a novel — that authors can self-publish and sell for $1-$5, an effort hailed as the last saving grace of long-form journalism.
  • TED, always the beacon, immediately jumped on the format with the landmark launch of TEDBooks — short titles by TED speakers that adapt important ideas worth spreading from the screen to the digital page.
  • Seth Godin officially kicked off his Domino Project in partnership with — you guessed it — Amazon, an effort to reinvent what it means to be a publisher through a hybrid publishing house and distribution channel for a highly curated stable of authors. Poke the Box, the first book from the project, was just released for pre-sale today in a limited edition of 400, available as a hardcover ($9.99), Kindle download ($7.99) and ultra-limited-edition signed copy with a letterpress cover and companion poster ($75).
  • Former Brain Pickings contributor Kirstin Butler released the first excerpt of Dead SULs, her modernization of Gogol’s iconic Dead Souls, exploring identity in the age of Facebook — an experiment in digital self-publishing powered by an open-source writing process.
  • Startup The Atavist unveiled a revolutionary platform for long-form journalism and novella-length fiction, available on a number of e-reader devices, including the Kindle.
  • Renouned libertarian economist Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution fame, announced that he’ll be publishing his highly anticipated new book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Bette, on Kindle only — a strategic stance against the slow turnaround of the traditional book industry, which makes timely topics dated by the time they hit bookstores.
  • Noted design thinking advocate Frank Chimero opted to fund his new book, The Shape of Design, on Kickstarter. (Please support him.)
  • Amazon’s ebooks sales eclipsed paperbacks for the first time, a landmark moment in publishing history.

So what is all of this momentum building up to? That’s exactly what John B. Thompson explores in Merchants of Culture — a compelling and necessary new book about, well, books. Thompson contextualizes the current turbulence of the publishing world in an ambitious analysis of five decades of publishing and bookselling, laced with rigorously researched historical background and invaluable interviews with veterans across the entire industry spectrum. (So excellent is the book, in fact, that we’re willing to overlook the irony of its print-only availability.)

Hovering between a serious academic text and an Entourage for the publishing business, full of high-rolling agents and drama-ridden deals, Merchants of Culture is as much a how-to for the everyman author as it is a what-now for the digitally paralyzed publisher, as well as an all-around treat for anyone interested in the future of the written word.

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