Brain Pickings

PICKED: IDEO Reimagines the Music Player


After reimagining the book, design innovation powerhouse IDEO is after the music player. c60 is an RFID-based interface that reintroduces physicality to music, something lost with digitization and the move to the cloud.

The idea here was to find a physical representation of the elements of modern musical life that we’ve come to love (such as playlists and shuffle), but not give up on the retro mixtape, twelve-inch vinyl player physicality.” ~ Martin Boone & Kara Johnson in I Miss My Pencil

c60 was inspired by the excellent book I Miss My Pencil, in which authors Martin Boone and Kara Johnson showcase 12 ingenious design experiments by IDEO designers, from a doorbell that uses smell instead of sound to a watch that tells time more slowly on weekends. Rather than mere conceptual curiosity, the experiments are brought to life through real collaboration, sketching, prototyping and fabrication. More about the project here.

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The Best Books of 2010: Business, Life & Mind


Time thieves, irrational pragmatists, and what bike-sharing has to do with coming out in science.

We reviewed a lot of books this year and here are our 10 nonfiction favorites in Business, Life and Mind, a continuation of our end-of-year best-of series. (Earlier this week, we covered the best albums and the most compelling long reads published online this year.) Tomorrow, we’ll be complementing with the best books in Art, Design and Photography, so be sure to check back.


Steven Johnson is one of our favorite cultural synthesizers, the prolific author of some of the best nonfiction of the past decade. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is practically a manifesto for the founding belief of Brain Pickings — that creativity is a combinatorial force — and traces the building blocks of innovation throughout all of human history. Where Good Ideas Come From was one of our 7 must-read books by TED speakers and you can sample it visually here.


Clay Shirky may just be the Marshall McLuhan of our day, only with saner vocabulary and less of a penchant for LSD. (At least as far as we know.)

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, one of our 5 curated summer readings, takes a fascinating look at how new media and technology are transforming us from consumers to collaborators, harnessing the vast amounts of free-floating human potential.


Futurist Kevin Kelly may be best-known as the founder of Wired, but he’s also one of the most compelling big-picture thinkers of our time. What Technology Wants begins with a brilliantly broad definition of “technology” — encompassing everything from language itself to augmented reality — and unfolds into ten insightful universal tendencies that give technology direction.

Kelly and Johnson (see above) discussed the role of technology in innovation and the origin of good ideas in this excellent Wired article — we highly recommend it.


We’re big proponents of de-ownership. Or, as we called it in one of this year’s most-read articles, having more by owning less. The lovely and brilliant Rachel Botsman went ahead and wrote a book about it: What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption — a compelling investigation of the emergent cultural shift from consumerism to community. From bike-sharing to house-swapping to book exchanges, the book concocts a potent antidote to the modern maladies of wastefulness and access, a bold and hopeful constitution for a new era of relating to the world and one another.


From New York Times columnist Nick Bilton comes an ambitious exploration of where the media landscape is going and how our brains are adapting to it. I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted dissects our analog past to find the roots of our digital future and our ambivalent present, illustrating with meticulously curated historical anecdotes that new technology has always been met with resistance but has inevitably effected progress that betters human life. People didn’t resort to never leaving their homes again when the telephone came out, as the front page of The New York Times declared that year, nor did the invention of the phonograph lead to mass illiteracy at the abandonment of books. These fears, Bilton argues, were natural but unfounded, as are their contemporary counterparts.

It’s the necessary antidote to Nicholas Carr’s decidedly techno-dystopian (and, we dare add after years of neuroscience studies, largely misinformed) The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains


After the Predictably Irrational slam-dunk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely outdid himself in The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home — not only a powerful research-driven look at the practical applications of irrationality, but also a personal story of the youthful accident that left Ariely scarred and sent him into years of painful physical therapy. We featured the book as one of our favorite 5 perspectives on the psychology of choice.


Since its inception in 1970, NPR has “always put the listener first” — a mission not always friction-free at times of political turmoil, government overregulation and divided public opinion. This year, the iconic public broadcaster celebrates its 40th anniversary with This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a beautifully designed anthology of behind-the-scenes photos, essays and original reporting, and NPR: The First Forty Years, a companion 4-CD compilation featuring some of the most memorable moments from 40 years of news, culture, conversation and commentary. We reviewed it in full, complete with a video trailer, here.


Dr. Neena Schwartz is one of the world’s most influential reproductive biologists, whose seminal work in endocrinology has changed the way science thinks about the relationship between the brain and the reproductive system. A Lab of My Own, is cultural landmark not only as a fascinating look at the feminist plight in science, but also as Schwartz’s deeply personal, powerful and graceful coming out story, with six decades of secrecy revealed for the first time on the pages of the book. We reviewed it in full here.


The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination is an absorbing anthology featuring essays by a wide range of scholars and writers spanning from the entire spectrum between theoretical and empirical. From the morality of it (is procrastination a vice?) to its possible antidotes (what are the best coping strategies?), the book is an essential piece of psychosocial insight. We first featured in one of this year’s most popular Brain Pickings posts, spotlighting 5 perspectives on procrastination, where you can find it reviewed in full.


A remarkable intersection of art and science, Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century takes us on a gripping visual journey through humanity’s understanding of the brain, from Medieval sketches to Victorian medical engravings to today’s most elaborate 3D brain mapping. Author Carl Schoonover delivers a book that sources its material in solid science, roots its aesthetic in art, and reads like an ambitious literary anthology. Our full review, complete with stunning images from the book, can be found here.

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PICKED: Look at What the Light Did Now


Canadian singer-songwriter Feist is easily among the most beloved independent artists of the decade, and certainly of our absolutely favorites. Now, from director Anthony Seck comes Look at What the Light Did Now — a poetic documentary tracing the journey of Feist’s most acclaimed album, The Reminder. The film offers a rare look at the close partnerships with the people Feist calls her “amplifiers.”

When you’re making records and in the odd position of people actually hearing them, suddenly something hopefully simple is getting amplified in so many different ways. This small thing can ripple out beyond recognition, so it becomes all the more important to have the amplifiers be people you trust. How do you find these people? Who are the amps?” ~ Leslie Feist

A photographer ingeniously hid her within the frame; an artist built an ambitious thread-radiating mural for the album cover; a video director conducted fireworks; a shadow puppeteer choreographed the human body in darkness and light; a pianist orchestrated the recording of the album; and many more musical and artistic collaborators left their mark

Ultimately, it’s people who are going to be creating the things that then go beyond you.” ~ Leslie Feist

The DVD features five single-shot, unedited live performances from The Reminder Tour (2007-2009), exclusive footage from a week of secret shows Feist played at the venues where she first got her break, archival footage of her and record producer, Chilly Gonzales, a collection of short films, a selection of her best-loved music videos, and a handful of priceless, uncommonly candid interviews.

More than an intimate look at one of our time’s most talented musicians, Look at What the Light Did Now embodies the very cross-pollination of disciplines and combinatorial power of creative fields that we so strongly advocate here.

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PICKED: Exit Through the Gift Shop Giveaway


British street artist Banksy has been vilified and glorified, reviled and revered, but one thing remains as unshakeable as his spray-can-slinging bravado: He’s a true cultural icon. Nowhere do both his genius and his penchant for controversy shine more brightly than in Exit Through the Gift Shop, the groundbreaking documentary about the elusive graffiti master and compelling larger commentary about the role of street art in contemporary culture, its oft-questioned commodification, and the even higher-order question of what constitutes talent in any art. The film swept the indie film and left audiences with eyes wide open as they took a rare look of a reclusive underground world and eyebrows raised high as they spun wild conspiracy theories about the film. (We need not say anything further — if you’ve seen it, you know what we’re talking about, and if you haven’t, anything we say would be a spoiler, that’s how good it is.)

Today is the day, that much-anticipated day that Exit Through the Gift Shop is released on DVD and Blu-ray. But wait, here’s the oh-so-special part: We’re giving away 10 copies of the DVD — complete with exclusive artwork, deleted scenes and even a “lawyer’s edit” — to Brain Pickings readers, courtesy of Wooster Collective.

To snag one, just sign up for our free weekly newsletter if you haven’t already and leave a comment below telling us what your favorite Banksy piece is. On Friday (12/17), we’ll use a random number generator to select the 10 lucky winners to walk away with a copy of the year’s most daring independent film.

Meanwhile, we’d be remiss not to point out that Exit Through the Gift Shop makes a +1 holiday gift.

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