PICKED is a new series of short-form interestingness we’re adding to our usual one-item-daily menu — every day, in addition to the main Brain Pickings article, we’ll also curate a couple of quick, often self-explanatory tidbits of noteworthiness from around the web. Think of it as the takeout to Brain Pickings’ full-service fine dining — same curatorial yardstick and quality of content, served to go.
Dictaphone Parcel is an imaginary animated documentary based on sound recorded with a dictaphone travelling hidden inside a parcel, eavesdropping on the world.
As the hidden recorder travels through the global mail system, from London to Helsinki, it captures the unexpected. We hear a mixture of abstract sounds, various types of transport and even discussions between the mail workers.”
We’ve got a weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
What smiling has to do with personal redemption and the economic outlook.
Is RSA the new TED? During the past year, the London-based Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA) has burst onto the scene, offering a steady diet of videos created with a TED-like formula. They’re short. They’re animated and visually snappy. And they’re substantive too. But while TED is all about bringing the inspiration, RSA videos tend toward critique. Take the four videos below. Though varied in focus, they all circle around a common theme — the flaws running through our contemporary capitalist system.
DANIEL PINK: DRIVE
First up, Daniel Pink, the bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, makes the point that traditional motivation schemes — namely, bonuses — rarely achieve their intended results. Research repeatedly finds that the bigger the bonus, the worse the performance. (Hello CEOs.) So what does motivate us? The desire to be self-directed, which Pink distills into a trifecta of success: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: SMILE OR DIE
In the United States, we’re all about positive psychology. Optimism is built into our DNA. But if you ask Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the bestselling book Nickel and Dimed, she’ll tell you it’s not such a good thing. In short, positive thinking keeps getting us nickeled and dimed.
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: FIRST AS TRAGEDY, THEN AS FARCE
Slavoj Zizek, one of today’s most influential philosophers/theorists, picks up where Ehrenreich leaves off. Reworking Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, or that strange relationship between money making and personal redemption, Zizek gives you this observation. Increasingly, modern capitalism tries to blur the boundaries between making purchases and doing social good. We’re made to feel like we’re creating good karma every time we buy. It’s a bit of hoodwinking that keeps us happy and spending, and our eyes off the ball.
STEPHEN DUBNER & STEVEN LEVITT: SUPERFREAKONOMICS
And then to pull this thread along a little further. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of the bestselling Freakonomics, dig into economic research that shows this dark reality: On the economic field, there’s no such thing as altruists. Players that look altruistic are greedy in the end.
DAVID HARVEY: CRISES OF CAPITALISM
What caused the 2008 financial crisis? Many have assumed that the capitalist system somehow malfunctioned. Credit default swaps and liar loans – they piled up and caused an otherwise good system to go down. But David Harvey, a long left-leaning social theorist and geographer, takes things a step further. The crisis was built into capitalism itself, he argues. It was part of capitalism’s internal logic. And, with that, we get the most penetrating critique.
All of these videos are excerpts of longer lectures, each running about 30 minutes. You can watch them in full here: Pink, Ehrenreich, Zizek, Dubner/Levit and Harvey. And when you do, you’ll really see how well the medium enhances the message.
Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
Today, we turn to The Smart Bubble Society — a wonderful nonprofit motion-graphics studio promoting social justice, self-education and awareness about critical issues through stunningly animated motion-graphics shorts called Thought Bubbles.
As humanity progresses, cultural shifts affect our individual thought bubbles. These shifts change our primary sources of in formation and, today, we live in a world where entertainment and distraction have seduced us.”
Sample their brilliant brand of visual storytelling with these three Thought Bubbles by thinkers who peel away important layers of issues that matter.
MICAH WHITE ON JUNK THOUGHT
Adbusters editor and activist Micah White takes a somewhat extreme but nonetheless thoughtful approach to an increasingly important issue in the information age: Just what are we filling our minds with?
Tragically, with the changing meaning of pollution, we’ve become increasingly concerned with the contamination of our external, natural environment, while ignoring the desecrations of our internal, mental environment.” ~ Micah White
JOHN GREEN ON HEALTHCARE
A few months ago, the healthcare debate sparked some of the most heated, volatile conversations in American history, both around the oval table and the dinner party table. Here, John Greene‘s now (in)famous discussion of the American healthcare system comes to life in a visual narrative that only adds to its impact.
It’s the inefficiency of our socialized medicine that in the end makes healthcare so much more expensive than it is anywhere else in the world. Is healthcare a privilege or is it a right?” ~ John Green
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL ON KINDNESS
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is part bestselling children’s book author, part modern philsopher. In this Thought Bubble, she touches on Western philosophy and Eastern spirituality, from market economies to Confucianism, making a compelling case for our inherent propensity for kindness.
At the end of life, at the end of YOUR life, what essence emerges? What have you filled the world with? In remembering you, what words will others choose?” ~ Amy Krouse Rosenthal
And for what it’s worth, we second Rosenthal’s heartfelt recommendation for Born to be Good — it’s truly one of the most important books you’ll ever read.
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