Human imagination, cataloged and numbered, or what James Bond and King James have in common besides the James.
By Maria Popova
If VH1 did a Fabulous Lives Of episode about the geektelligencia — today’s literati — it would no doubt include a grand tour of über-geek and web entrepreneur Jay Walker‘s private library. Because Jay Walker’s library is no ordinary lavish and gratuitous showcase of knowledge porn. (Although, OK, it is that too.)
Fascinated by the breadth intellectual property, the infamous entrepreneur (of Walker Digital and Priceline.com fame) decided to build and curate a “library”of humanity’s intellectual and creative progress with all its artifacts — from an authentic Gutenberg Bible to an original Sputnik 1 satellite to the chandelier from Bond flick Die Another Day — hosting over 5,000 years of human imagination.
The library’s design, spearheaded by Walker’s wife, is a creative and intellectual feat of its own. The 3-story-high building, computer-controlled and brilliantly lit to change colors, is like the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only concerned with something much sweeter and more addictive than chocolate — pure imagination in all its scientific, artistic, technological and undefinable forms. A glass bridge, suspended in space, stretches across the library — so you can literally take a leap of human imagination as you marvel at the world-changing artifacts surrounding you. Even the floor layout is designed like an Escher print. Before the grand window lies a custom-commissioned, internally lit, 2.5-ton Clyde Lynds book sculpture with the mind on the right page and the universe on the left — the embodiment of the library’s spirit.
And by “you,” of course, we mean Jay Walker himself an a small set of guests selected even more carefully than the objects in the library themselves — because the private library has remained just that. It was only unveiled to the world earlier this year through Jay Walker’s inspired TED talk, where the conference organizers somehow talked him into decorating the TED stage with objects from the library. A few months later, a Wired reporter became the first press member to enter the library while writing a must-read exposè on the cultural hallmark.
Ultimately, the library is Jay Walker’s attempt to answer the simple yet profoundly difficult question, “How do we create?” His stab at the answer:
We create by surrounding ourselves with stimuli, with history, with human achievement, with the things that drive us and make us human — the passionate discovery, the bones of dinosaurs long gone, the maps of space that we’ve experienced, and ultimately the hallways that stimulate our mind and our imagination.
While we love the idea of a centralized collection of human intelligence and imagination, we’re torn between loving what the library stands for and wondering whether or not it “stands” in all the right ways, being privately owned and pretty much the artifact antithesis of a Creative Commons license.
Doesn’t “human imagination” belong to everybody, the Ukrainian schoolchild as much as the TED elite? And isn’t the greatest gift of imagination the boundary-spanning, all-inclusive propagation of brilliant ideas?
How to socialize the hipster way and get a discount at Starbucks along the way.
By Maria Popova
iPod earbuds on, passing people by without eye contact, drifting through the metropolitan maze in your own little bubble. Sound familiar? It’s the Large City Syndrome, and we’ve all got it to some extent. So how do you de-strangerize and rekindle that “social being” side of your existence?
A little awkward is a quirky, inspired, distinctly hipster project that aims to encourage interaction between strangers in the city, coordinating low-key meetings between those who want to meet new people in urban environments.
The project is the work of two students at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Alex Abreu and Stella Kim, for the annual students’ ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) show.
The way it works is brilliantly simple: To create a meet-up event, you specify the expiration time — could be 30 minutes, could be 3 days — and give a quick clothing description. Then, the system matches you up with someone else in your area who’s looking for an encounter at that time and each of you gets a text message with the nearby location of the meet-up (which the system picks out for you), the time you have to get there, and the other person’s clothing description so you can spot them right away.
Besides the undeniable cool factor and good times potential of the project, the founders are also contemplating some interesting marketing partnerships — namely, hooking up with specific venues in an area to sponsor the project. In return, A little awkward would push people to those venues for meet-ups, offering users perks like coupons or other exclusive discounts at the local partner hangouts.
50% off a Starbucks Chai Latte in good company doesn’t sound like a bad plan for a Sunday afternoon.
We just dig the idea of jolting people out of their urban routine and allowing them to surrender to chance and uncomplicated fun and all those things that somehow gave way the grown-up reality of work and rent and mandatory Friday night dinner parties.
8 things that shaped the year’s innovation footprint, or what Buckminster Fuller has to do with tap water and Michael Phelps.
By Maria Popova
This being an indiscriminate ideas blog, we’ve put together a selection of the year’s best ideas — big and small, spanning a multitude of categories, and held together by the sole common tangent of being truly, tangibly, future-changingly innovative. Here’s our shortlist for the 8 most compelling ideas of 2008.
Music recommendation services have been around for a while, driven by smart algorithms that seem to know your music taste better than your bff. But despite all the Pandoras and Last.fm’s of the world, the music industry and its business model are falling apart. And digital music leader iTunes may have a win-win solution for both consumers and the industry, thanks to the recently released Genius feature.
So why is Genius genius? It works remarkably well — its recommendations are immaculate and the playlists it builds can rival even the most meticulously compiled mixtape that your 8th-grade sweetheart spent 3 weeks crafting. More importantly, it fights the two deadliest threats to today’s music industry — the failure to monetize “fandom” (Last.fm may be great at helping you discover new favorite artists, but not so great at cashing the fandom check) and consumer’s music library overload. (Anyone with more than a few hundred songs in their iTunes, which is pretty much everyone, is slowly losing track of the tracks and forgetting some of those artists even existed.)
In a world where keeping up with our own music is becoming overwhelming and getting new stuff is anything from burdensome to illegal, Genius steps in as a welcome and well-crafted one-two-punch solution.
No one made more waves in Summer ’08 than wonderboy Michael Phelps. And when a record-breaking 8 Olympic gold medal streak is almost shadowed by another wave-maker, we know there’s something big going on.
But here’s the thing: 3 years of R&D produced technology that’s utterly groundbreaking and innovative and all those superlatives attached to true progress. So we find it ridiculous to put a “moral” label on it. It’s like saying that cars should’ve never upgraded to better tires because it would’ve been unfair to all the lagging manufacturers, or Firefox should’ve never revolutionized the web browser because it was unfair to Netscape and Internet Explorer.
Progress has to start somewhere, and the laggards better suck it up and learn to keep up.
YES WE CAN SONG
We’ve featured it again and again. And, yep, we’re doing it yet again. Because will.i.am‘s deeply moving, celebrity-powered remix of Obama’s New Hampshire primary speech managed to do something extraordinary, something never before seen in the stiff world of politics: Tap the very emotional chord that makes people so profoundly moved by and connected to music, and translating it to political motivation.
The resulting Song For Change became the most-watched election-related video on YouTube and we strongly believe it had a lot to do with getting the President Elect that much-needed, make-or-break youth vote.
It may be a scientific cliche that the best of discoveries happen by accident, but it’s exactly the case with buckypaper — a revolutionary material composed of tube-shaped carbon molecules 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.
What makes buckypaper unique isn’t simply its ability to conduct both electricity and heat, but also the fact it’s 10 times lighter and 500 times stronger than steel.
You could say that buckypaper virtually came from outer space.
In 1985, British scientist Harry Kroto tried to simulate the conditions that exist in a stars, the source of all carbon in the universe, to see how they make the element of life. But halfway through the experiment, something unusual happened: A bizarre 60-atom carbon molecule shaped like a soccer ball popped up out of the blue. Kroto thought it looked like iconic architect, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, so he named the new molecule buckminsterfullerene, or “buckyballs” for short. (Besides the wacky name, the discovery also landed Kroto and colleagues the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996.)
Fast-forward 20-odd years, and you’ve got a renewed interest in the chemical oddball, resulting in the development of a thin film that forms when the carbon tubes are filtered through a fine mesh and stick together in a liquid suspension — that’s buckypaper.
So we can sit back and wait for that super light, super fast, thunderstorm-proof buckypaper jet plane.
RICOH GREEN BILLBOARD
Consumerism is the reason why we’re in our climate pickle, no question there. It’s wasteful and gratuitous and driven by excess. And the marketing industry is pouring more fuel into its fire than anything else. So it’s refreshing to see bold, innovative efforts that significantly shrink the carbon footprint of capitalism’s necessary evil.
Case in point: Times Square’s first “green” billboard for office equipment supplier Ricoh. At $3 million, the board is powered solely by 16 wind turbines and 64 solar panels connected to a bank of batteries. Comapred to a traditional electric billboard, it’s estimated to save 18 tons of carbon over the course of a year — enough to light 6 large houses.
And with over 15,000 billboards in New York City alone, do the math. Ok, we’ll do it for you — roughly 270,000 tons of carbon spewed into the atmosphere each year just by NYC’s outdoor advertising, the equivalent of lighting a small 90-house village.
The board took about a year from inception to completion and entailed a whole lot of challenges. Eventually, they were able to find a small California-based company, PacWind, that makes very efficient turbine technology that actually works in very little wind.
The best part is how “real” company executives are about the new technology and its drawbacks. (Like, say, the fact that the billboard will go out on a cloudy day.)
An advertisement is not a mission-critical function… nobody will ever die because our eco-board is lit or is not. So we think that if it goes dark, it’s actually an even brighter light on the fact that we’re using alternative energy and that we’re not wasting carbon in order to advertise.
You said it, brother.
Granted, Android was unveiled in late 2007. But its fundamental “great ideaness” lies in its category-defying, industry-revolutionizing open model. And it officially became open-source only a couple of months ago, on October 21, 2008.
Today, the entire source code is available under an Apache license, which allows developers and vendors to add free extensions and toss them right back into the open source community. And open-source evangelists’ nitpicking aside, that’s something rare and precious in today’s telecom oligopoly and the stifling proprietariness of everything. (iPhone/AT&T lovenest, we’re looking at you.)
When BMW’s GINA concept car fist made the buzz rounds mid-year, many thought it was a hoax or a clever teaser for something a bit more… real. It turned out, however, to be a no-B.S., totally serious, perfectly real effort by the trend-setting German automaker.
The GINA Light Visionary Model is, simply put, a car made out of cloth. Instead of having a metal or plastic body, GINA is draped in a flexible material stretched over a movable wire mesh, making the car a structural chameleon — the driver can choose to change its shape on a whim.
Beyond the sheer cool factor, GINA is also considerably more environmentally reasonable than traditional cars. Not only does the light fabric take much less energy to produce than heavier, more rigid materials, but it also makes the total weight of the car much lower, resulting in significantly better fuel efficiency.
Plus, it’s fucking badass.
THE TAP PROJECT
You may recall how seriously we take the drinking water problem around here. Which is why the Tap Project is topping our ideas list this year — a small but incredibly smart, ambitious and inspired project that has the potential to make tremendous difference to the poor by asking ridiculously little of the wealthy.
Here’s how it works: During World Water Week in March this year,the Tap Project launched a nationwide effort, inviting restaurants and their patrons to simply donate $1 (or more) for the tap water they’d normally get for free. Every dollar raised buys a child in the third world 40 days worth of clean drinking water.
Pause to digest that. Exactly.
So simple. So potent. And so eye-opening, juxtaposing what we in the seat of privilege take for granted with the deadly lack thereof that kills — literally — millions.
The Tap Project is the brain child of creative icon David Droga and was developed in partnership with UNICEF. Over 2,350 restaurants participated in the 2008 push, raising more than $5 million — the equivalent of 1.7 million days of clean drinking water for children around the world.
With close to 1 million restaurants nationwide (it’s the second-largest industry outside of government), you can only imagine the project’s full breadth of potential as it continues to reach critical mass.
Why pen and paper are not dead and what Aspirin has to do with Thom Yorke.
By Maria Popova
It’s a well-documented fact that creative people, whatever their craft, doodle. Documented mostly on napkins, sticky notes, torn off notebook pages, and other random scraps of paper. Doodling is a silver bullet for everything from fleshing out that big idea to relieving creative boredom, an art form so underappreciated yet so necessary for keeping the cogs of the creative world turning.
One brave blog is out to claim doodling the kind of status it deserves. Doodlage is a rich and diverse tribute to the art of doodling, spanning the entire spectrum of doodlers — from the professional illustrator to the everyday cubicle slave stuck on a long call with nothing but a pen and the back of a spreadsheet.
Granted, some of the stuff featured is the brilliant work of world-class artists, but that’s okay because Doodlage, not unlike us here, seems to be in the business of indiscriminate inspiration.
Doodlage scours the web for doodly goodness, whatever medium or shape it may take — from to fascinating notebook doodles (some of which remind us of a certain Thom Yorke album cover), and everything in between.
And since this is exactly the kind of stuff to make you seem all smart and thoughtful in the otherwise cheesy and cliché-driven ordeal of holiday gift-giving, be sure to check out the Doodlage Shop on Etsy.
Doodlage is the work of creative duo RaShell and LeO, both of whom you can follow on Twitter.