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How China’s First Emperor Pioneered Design Thinking and Revolutionized the Branding of Legacy

How to standardize, enforce accountability, and employ design thinking in coining your image and legacy.

How China’s First Emperor Pioneered Design Thinking and Revolutionized the Branding of Legacy

The questions of what makes good design, what it should aspire to be, why it’s essential to culture, and how it harmonizes with human life have long occupied modern thinkers and pundits. That’s precisely what Herald Tribune design critic and writer extraordinaire Alice Rawsthorn sets out to answer in Hello World: Where Design Meets Life (public library).

Rawsthorn begins with a necessary definition of the essence and cultural significance of design, so often misunderstood and diminished to mere decoration:

Design is a complex, often elusive phenomenon that has changed dramatically over time by adopting different guises, meanings and objectives in different contexts, but its elemental role is to act as an agent of change, which can help us to make sense of what is happening around us, and to turn it to our advantage. Every design exercise sets out to change something, whether its intention is to transform the lives of millions of people, or to make a marginal difference to one, and it does so systematically. At its best, design can ensure that changes of any type — whether they are scientific, technological, cultural, political, economic, social, environmental or behavioral — are introduced to the world in ways that are positive and empowering, rather than inhibiting or destructive.

One of Rawsthorn’s most illustrative examples comes from Ying Zheng, who took the throne as king of the Chinese State of Qin in his early teens in 246 BC and went on to become the first emperor of unified China in 221 BC. Today, he endures as one of the most formidable figures in world history, equally known for his military might and his uncompromising despotism, which included book-burning and burying scholars alive. Design, as it turns out, was his major ally, which he employed on various levels, from the practical to the tactical to the political.

One of his major feats, Rawsthorn tells us, was standardization:

The design of all weaponry was improved under Ying Zheng’s command. The optimum size, shape, choice of material and method of production for each piece was determined, and every effort made to ensure that weapons of the same type adhered to the chosen formula. The Qin army had used bronze spears for over a thousand years, but the blades were rendered shorter and broader. The dagger-axes were redesigned too. Putting six holes in the blades, rather than four, ensured that their bronze heads could be attached more securely and were less likely to shake loose in the frenzy of battle.

Even more important were the changes to Qin’s bows and arrows. Archers were critical in determining the outcome of every stage of combat in Ying Zheng’s era, but their weapons were made by hand, often to different specifications. If an archer ran out of arrows during a battle, it was generally impossible for him to fire another warrior’s arrows from his bow. Similarly, if he was killed or injured, his remaining ammunition would be useless to his comrades. And if a bow broke, that archer’s arrows risked being wasted. The same problems applied to more complex weapons like crossbows. The result was that an army’s progress was often impeded by weapons failure because its archers were unable to fight at full efficiency, if at all.

With standardization also came a new level of production accountability:

Ying Zheng’s forces resolved these problems by standardizing the design of their bows and arrows. The shaft of each arrow had to be a precise length, and the head to be formed in a triangular prism, always of the same size and shape. The components of longbows and crossbows were made identical too, and these design formulas were rigidly enforced. Each piece of government equipment was branded with a distinctive mark to identify who had made it and in which workshop. If a particular weapon was deemed substandard, the offending artisans would be fined, and punished more severely if the problem recurred.

But Ying Zheng didn’t stop at weaponry. Next, he rebranded his very persona, renaming himself Qin Shihuangdi, or “First Emperor of China,” and employed design in shaping various aspects of culture and commerce, from literacy to currency, even enforcing his own reputation by way of early propaganda design:

A unified system of coinage was introduced, as were standardized weights and measures, a universal legal code and common method of writing. These changes made daily life more orderly, and boosted the economy by making it easier for people from different regions to trade. They also had a symbolic importance in helping to persuade the new emperor’s subjects, many of whom had fought against his army in battle, or had family or friends who had died doing so, that they had a personal stake in his immense domain. Take the new coins. Every time a farmer or a carpenter used them, they saw a tangible reminder that they themselves were part of a dynamic new empire, and had good reason to feel grateful to its visionary founder and ruler.

[…]

He also made sure that the inhabitants of even the most remote regions knew of his power and achievements by ordering descriptions of his feats to be carved into mountains across China.

This use of design strategy, in fact, was a primitive example of the buzzworthy concept currently known as “design thinking”:

Qin Shihuangdi [identified] what he needed to do to secure the future of his regime, and to communicate the results to his subjects. There are parallels between his strategic use of design and its role in successful corporate identity programs, such as Nike’s, and communication exercises like Barack Obama’s presidential election campaigns.

But Qin Shihuangdi’s greatest design feat was the application of design as a medium of self-expression, specifically in the preservation of his legacy. He commanded the construction of a monumental burial chamber — a massive underground palace spanning over twenty square miles on Mount Li, discovered there accidentally by farmers in 1974. Its construction was so demanding and grueling that many of the workers died in the process of it and were buried on the site. Rawsthorn explains:

Just as Qin Shihuangdi had deployed design with extreme efficiency to amass wealth and power during his life, he used it to secure what he believed would be an equally resplendent death, by creating the afterlife of his fantasies, which served a practical purpose too. Building such an outlandishly extravagant burial site was so eloquent a testimony of his might that it reinforced it as effectively as his celestially planned palaces, mountain inscriptions and the new imperial currency. But it was also a physical manifestation of the inner world of his imagination, a material expression of how China’s first emperor saw himself, and wished to define his place in history, which presaged contemporary design spectacles such as Olympic Games opening ceremonies, the Arirang Festivals in North Korea and the elaborate sets of Chanel’s haute couture shows at the Grand Palais in Paris.

[…]

Yet unlike latter-day design tacticians such as Apple, Chanel, Nike, Barack Obama’s campaign advisors and the despotic Kim dynasty, Qin Shihuangdi conceived and executed his design feats entirely instinctively.

Hello World is fascinating in its entirety, spanning such varied yet interrelated illustrations of design as the London Underground and the breeding of dogs.

Coin photograph courtesy The British Museum

BP

From Philosophy to Art, 10 Essential Books on Protest

What Billie Holiday has to do with Burma, growing your own marijuana, and the American Revolution.

2011 has been the year of protest. From the Arab Spring to the London Riots to the global Occupy Wall Street movement, civic unrest and sociopolitical dissent have reached a tipping point of formidable scale. This omnibus of ten nonfiction books that illuminate protest through the customary Brain Pickings lens of cross-disciplinary curiosity, spanning everything from psychology and philosophy to politics and government to art and music, extends an invitation to better understand the art, science, and psychology of protest, both in our present reality and in the broader context of our civilization.

33 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE (2011)

Since the dawn of modern history, song and poetry have been tightly woven into movements of social change. In some cases, singers have been censored, arrested, beaten, or even killed for their vocal bravery. (Just recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement attracted such legends as Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie.) In others, they have unscrupulously exploited the protest ethos to garner publicity for mediocre pop songs. In 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day, British rock critic Dorian Lynskey digs deep into the underbelly of 20th-century protest songs to explore why the best of them give you chills and goosebumps, even decades later.

The best protest songs are not dead artifacts, pinned to a particular place and time, but living conundrums. The essential, inevitable difficulty of contorting a serious message to meet the demands of entertainment is the grit that makes the pearl.”

And, lest we forget, music is particularly engrained in America’s present political reality. When Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States, he stood up in front of one hundred thousand supporters and channeled the exhilaration of his inauguration by paraphrasing the lyrics of soul singer Sam Cooke’s iconic anthem. “It’s been a long time coming, ” Obama proclaimed. “It’s been a long, long time coming,” Cooke sang. “..but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” “…but I know a change gonna come.

Obama is, in a sense, the first protest song president. He grew up on the politicized soul of Stevie Wonder and used Curtis Mayfield’s civil rights anthem “Move on Up” at his election rallies. During the campaign, a list of his ten favorite songs printed in Blender magazine included “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can,” which was written around a recording of his own speech, thus making him the lyricist of his own protest song.”

From Billie Holiday’s 1939 “Strange Fruit,” the first openly anti-racism song and the tipping point at which pop music fully embraced politics, to John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and other anthems of the 1970s anti-war movement to contemporary songwriters addressing everything from nuclear energy to corruption, Lynskey lays out a layered and fascinating study of the intersection of music and politics.

Billie Holiday recording ‘Strange Fruit,’ 1939
Charles Peterson/Associated Press, courtesy of Don Peterson/ITVS via The New York Times

For a while, in the dizzying rush of the 1960s, it was thought that pop music could change the world, and some people never recovered from the realization that it could not. But the point of protest music, or indeed any art with a political dimension, is not to shift the world on its axis but to change opinions and perspectives, to say something about the times in which you live, and, sometimes, to find that what you’ve said speaks to another moment in history, which is how Barack Obama came to be standing in Grant Park paraphrasing the worlds of Sam Cooke.”

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE (1849)

Even though Henry David Thoreau’s beard ranks rather low on Underwood’s Pogonometric Index of poetic gravity by beard weight, his legacy as a poet, philosopher, abolitionist, historian, and transcendentalist makes him one of the most important thinkers in modern history. In his seminal 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, Thoreau made a compelling case for individual resistance to civil government that would inspire generations of revolutionaries and ordinary nonconformists alike to engage in moral protest against being made unwitting accomplices in the injustices perpetrated by the state. The essay, considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the form ever written, was inspired in part by Thoreau’s outrage over slavery in America and the Mexican-American War, and was based on his 1848 lecture “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government.” Insights and elements from it have inspired some of the greatest social change agents of the 20th century, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no con­science; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a con­science.”

FREEDOM ON THE MENU (2005)

What’s a Brain Pickings omnibus without a proper children’s book? In Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, a fine addition to our favorite children’s nonfiction, author Carole Boston Weatherford and painter Jerome Lagarrigue tell the story of 8-year-old Connie as she observes the spark of the African-American civil rights movement from the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina at the time of the infamous Greensboro sit-ins.

Just about every week, Mama and I went shopping downtown. I loved having her all to myself for the afternoon. Whenever it was hot or we got tired, we’d head over to the snack bar at the five-and-dime store. We’d stand as we sipped our Cokes because we weren’t allowed to sit at the lunch counter.”

For a grown-up take on these seminal events and times, see The Movement and The Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee.

THE ART OF MORAL PROTEST (1998)

One thing this year’s unrest and its treatment in the popular media have exposed is the tendency of today’s scholars to reduce protest to “objective” factors like resources, evolutionary biology, and political structures. More than a decade ago, prominent NYU, Columbia and Princeton sociology professor James M. Jasper channeled his frustration with this conflation in The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements — a thoughtful and provocative treatise on the creative, subjective side of social and political protest. Since Jasper’s central focus is on mental life, his inquiry extends not only to culture but also to the role of the individual in the dynamic of social movements, something often ignored in theories of collective dissent.

Culture is everywhere, but it is not everything. We can only see it clearly by contrasting it with biography, strategy, and resources. At the same time, we cannot understand those other dimensions of protest without defining culture crisply.”

Jasper examines how issues of innovation, creativity, and change relate to culture and biography, converging to produce powerful social shifts.

Individuals often initiate small changes, many of which become widespread, and it is through cultural learning that they spread. People learn from the interaction between their existing cultural or biographical equipment and new experiences — a preeminently mental process.”

PERFECT HOSTAGE (2010)

Burmese opposition politician, intellectual, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the most inspiring figures in modern political history. Between 1989 and 2010, she spent nearly 15 years in house arrest for her political convictions and persistent whistle-blowing around the country’s undemocratic elections. In Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Prisoner of Conscience, Justin Wintle peels away at the reserved demeanor, Oxford education, and gentle femininity of Burma’s Iron Lady to reveal the rugged fabric of her tireless dissent in what’s as much a rigorously researched biography as it is a deeply reverential homage to her bravery and character.

Thus has been created the best-known prisoner of conscience presently alive. In the narrow gallery of modern saints, her images stands out, and it is commonplace to hear Aung San Suu Kyi likened to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, even Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy of non-violence she assiduously espoused.”

For an even more personal perspective, see Suu Kyi’s own Letters from Burma, full of poignancy and urgency, published mere months before her release.

COMMON SENSE (1776)

On January 10, 1776, radical author, intellectual and revolutionary Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense. Though he did so anonymously, signing it “Written by an Englishman,” it gained immediate success, with the largest sale and circulation of any book in American history relative to the population at the time, and went on to become one of the most incendiary and important documents of the American Revolution.

Premised on the conviction that American colonists needed to attain freedom from British rule at a time of uncertainty around the issue of independence, Paine’s pamphlet resonated not only because of the candor and passion of its argument but also because it was written in a style that common people understood, a radical departure from the pompous style of Enlightenment-era writers, riddled with Latin references and over-intellectualized language. Instead, Paine borrowed from the structure of sermons and connected independence with the ethos of dissent fundamental to Protestant beliefs, ultimately crafting a distinctly American political identity.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

For another layer of added relevance, Common Sense is also a powerful case study in successful self-publishing and the viral potential of books, something particularly hotly debated today.

PARASTOU FAROUHAR (2011)

One November evening in 1998, Iranian intellectuals and activists Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, supporters of the democratically elected Prime Minister, were savagely murdered in their home in Tehran. Their devastated daughter, Berlin-based artist Parastou Forouhar, channeled her grief in the language she spoke most fluently: art — powerful, poignant, subversive art that pulls you into its uncomfortable beauty with equal parts urgency and mesmerism. Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran is a stirring chronicle of the artist’s protest against these most gruesome crimes against human rights, a commentary on both her painful private experience and the broader cultural tensions it reflected, exploring everything from democracy to women’s rights to her parents’ brutal murder.

With work that stands in stark contrast to the loud, conspicuous, explicit messaging of Iran’s street art, Forouhar uses soft colors and fluid shapes to draw you in, only to jolt you with the grave scenes of torture and tragedy they depict — living proof that art doesn’t have to be “street art” in order to be subversive and make compelling cultural commentary on even the most uncomfortable of subjects.

When I arrived in Germany, I was Parastou Forouhar. Somehow, over the years, I’ve become ‘Iranian.’ This enforced ethnic identification took a new turn with the assassination of my parents in their home in Tehran. My efforts to investigate this crime had a great impact on my personal and artistic sensibilities. Political correctness and democratic coexistence lost their meaning in my daily life. As a result, I have tried to distill this conflict of displacement and transfer of meaning, turning it into a source of creativity.” ~ Parastou Forouhar

Originally reviewed here.

STEAL THIS BOOK (1971)

As much a tongue-in-cheek survival guide for life in America (or, Amerika, as it were) as it was a serious piece of cultural commentary on the status quo, Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book inspired a generation of social revolutionaries to challenge the cultural and political mandates of the day. Brilliantly and often scandalously illustrated by the one and only R. Crumb, this classic offers insurgent advice on everything from starting a pirate radio station to how to making pipe bombs to growing marijuana. The title reflects Hoffman’s assertion that it isn’t immoral to steal from the state, which he infamously calls “Pig Empire,” calling for rebellion against authority, both governmental and corporate. A frequent rebel himself, Hoffman famously wrote the book’s introduction while in jail.

Revolution is not something fixed in ideology, nor is it something fashioned to a particular decade. It is a perpetual process embedded in the human spirit. When all today’s isms have become yesterday’s ancient philosophy, there will still be reactionaries and there will still be revolutionaries. No amount of rationalization can avoid the moment of choice each of us brings to our situation here on the planet. I still believe in the fundamental injustice of the profit system and do not accept the proposition there will be rich and poor for all eternity.

Hoffman was also a fellow Marshall McLuhanite with a firm belief that “structure is more important than content in the transmission of information” — his modification of McLuhan’s iconic catchphrase, “The medium is the message.”

TRESPASS (2010)

Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art, one of our 7 favorite books on street art, explores the history and context of illegal art, from traditional graffiti to performance to design interventions, as a powerful form of urban protest. As a proper Taschen treat, this lavish 320-page volume features work from 150 influential artists across four generations of visionary outlaws, including Keith Haring, Os Gemeos, Barry McGee, Shepard Fairey, Blu, and Banksy.

BP

TEDGlobal Highlights: Day 1

Tiny objects, supermassive holes, and everything in between.

Coming from anyone else, an event titled The Substance of Things Not Seen would come off as anything from wishy-washy to obnoxiously self-important. But it’s coming from TED — it’s the title of this year’s TEDGlobal conference, which opened today in Oxford, and it’s the kind of brave and aspirational promise only TED can make, and only TED can deliver on.

Session 1, titled What We Know, opened with philosopher Alain de Botton, who pondered the issue of snobbery.

A snob is someone who takes a small part of you and uses that to paint a complete picture of who you are.

He went on to decry “job snobbery” — the tendency to judge others by their career choices — stressing that it’s impossible to know what someone’s true value is.

Next up, iconic graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister (whom you may recall) showcased some of his recent work, including a table made out of 320 compasses and an incredible piece of logo-generation software connected to a scanner that takes any image you put in and colors the logo graphic in complementary colors based on the image. Sagmeister used the software to create the identity for Portugal’s Casa da Música, which is based on the building’s architectural shape.

His latest project is a film called The Happy Film, shot in Bali and set to release in 2011.

Actor, author and web personality Stephen Fry followed with a somewhat messy and unfocused yet utterly engaging talk about the importance of developing and harnessing all sides of the human mind — art together with science, the intellectual together with the emotional — rather than compartmentalizing ourselves.

He gave an example of a C. P. Snow lecture given nearly 50 years ago, decrying the snobbery on the art side where ignorance of science was acceptable in a way that ignorance of humanities on the science side was unacceptable.

Next up, 17-year-old virtuoso Matthew White wowed the crowd with his euphonium magic.

What came next was a complete wildcard no one had anticipated — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took the stage, for a talk about the unique age we live in, shaped by new media and modern technologies, which are becoming a tool of social change.

We are the first generation which is in a position to form a truly global society.

Although a bit formulaic and expected, Brown’s points were interesting to hear from a politician — perhaps an indication that Brack Obama’s tremendously smart use of social media, as well as the grassroots case study of Twitter use in Iran last month, have set the pace for politics’ new sociocultural relationship with emerging media.

The talk was followed by an intense Q&A session with TED’s relentlessly inquisitive curator, Chris Anderson.

In Session 2, titled Seeing Is Believing?, astronomer Andrea Ghez talked — with enormous charisma and wonderful energy — about the fascinating phenomenon of supermassive black holes, which have 4 billion times the mass of the Sun and may exist at the center of every galaxy, including ours. She spotlighted a technology known as adaptive optics and stressed the need for more research in order to build bigger, better, more powerful and sophisticated tools to investigate the phenomena we know the least about.

Following was one of the gawk-inducing highlights of the day: Microsculptor Willard Wigan, whose art takes the word “miniature” to new levels. A typical piece consists of a tiny object — a house, a person, Homer Simpson — built on top of a pinhead or inside a needle ear, and takes 5-8 weeks of incredibly painstaking work.

Inspired by an early childhood fascination with the microcosm of ants, Wigan’s work is a true reflection of the conference theme of the substantial but unseen.

Nothing doesn’t exist. Because there’s always something.

Next, optical innovator Josh Silver asked for a show-of-hands to see how many people in the audience wear glasses or contacts. Amazingly, the majority of hands were raised.

Which shouldn’t come as a surprise since, as Silver pointed out, 60% of world has some sort of vision correction — but few can actually afford something we in the Western world take for granted.

Over one billion people would see their world change if they had glasses.

Silver’s organization, the Center for Vision in the Developing World, came up with a solution: Adspecs, a pair of DIY glasses that anyone in the world can make and use. Prototyped in 1985, there are now 13,000 pairs in use. And although, at $19, Adspecs are far cheaper than other corrective eyewear, Silver reminded us that the main target for this product is a population living on $1 per day, urging for more research to drive the cost down into truly affordable levels.

Next, professional stuntman Steve Truglia, whom you may have (not) seen in many a Bond movie, introduced his new project, Space Jump — an ambitious effort to make the world’s biggest stunt by jumping from 120,000 feet, breaking the sound barrier with his body at over 700mph. He demoed the weight suit intended for use in the stunt, a neo-Jetsonian outfit of questionable color choice.

The day’s final speaker was the incredible Mark Johnson of Playing For Change fame. The project became, deservingly, a viral sensation several months ago, with its moving ability to illustrate the power of music in acting as global social glue.

Johnson was also the only speaker to get a real TED standing ovation — well-deserved recognition for a brave and brilliant grassroots experiment in promoting peace through one of the greatest, most universal human passions: music.

For full live coverage throughout the remaining 3 days of the conference, stay tuned on Twitter and keep an eye out for our daily highlights here.

BP

The Library Rethought

How to one-up the Greeks and what Shepard Fairey has to do with Copenhagen circa 1891.

Libraries have a special place in history as a hearth of culture that kindled the greatest feats of science and the grandest works of art. Yet today, they’re in danger of being left precisely there — in history. As our collective use of libraries dwindles in the digital age, five brave efforts are innovating the concept of “the library” in ways that make it as culturally relevant today as it ever was.

PENTAGRAM FOR L!BRARY

Almost nine years ago, NYC design studio Pentagram got involved with the Robin Hood Foundation in an inspired effort to build new elementary school libraries throughout NYC’s five boroughs — the best architects were to build them, private companies were to fill them with books, Pentagram were to design the inspirational atmosphere and craft the entire identity for what became The Library Initiative.

But they found something interesting — even though the libraries were mostly located in high-ceiling old buildings, shelves could only be as high as the kids could reach, leaving a lot of space between the top of the shelves and the ceiling. Pentagram saw this space as a canvas to fill with something wonderful, so they partnered with a handful of top-notch designers to create murals that are just that — absolutely wonderful.

Today, these inspired murals can be found in more than 60 libraries across the five boroughs, featuring the work of designers and illustrators cherry-picked by the Pentagram team — from a series of photographic portraits by Dorothy Kresz, to a visual interpretation of words through silhouettes by Rafael Esquer, to books hidden in images in the iconic illustration style of Christoph Niemann.

Needless to say, we love the idea. Design is only as valuable as the change it ignites — in our understanding of beauty and truth, our conceptual and aesthetic literacy, yes, but also in our greater social sensibility. And harnessing the power of design to enhance “literal literacy” by turning libraries into cooler, more inviting hangouts for kids, well, that’s just pure beauty and truth.

LIBRARY OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

We’ve featured philanthropic geek Jay Walker‘s Library of Human Imagination extensively before.

So for today’s refresher purposes, his fantastic TED talk should get the job done.

We’d love to see Jay open up his library to those with the greatest urgency of fostering the spirit of human imagination — children. Because whatever is behind the doors of our cultural library, a school bus should be in front of them.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON FLICKR

It’s always a delight to see the stiffest and most traditional of institutions embrace fundamental elements of today’s social spirit.

Which is why we love seeing The Library of Congress on Flickr. Their collection features nearly 6,000 images of historic hallmarks — from the evolution of the women’s rights movement to incredible World War I panoramas to a breathtaking century-old grand tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Go ahead, get nostalgic over ages you didn’t really live in to remember. It’s okay, we did too.

LIVE FROM THE NYPL

Turns out, you can actually talk in libraries. Some even hand you a mic — at least if you’re on one of the NYPL Live panels, a fantastic talk series by and at The New York Public Library. The events are available as free audio podcasts on iTunes, with short video highlights viewable online.

We were recently taken with NYPL’s REMIX event, an excellent discussion titled Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson and sponsored by Wired, the conversation between Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig and now-legendary street artist Shepard Fairey, whose Obama “HOPE” poster became the most iconic political design of all time, offered a fantastic discourse on the intersection of creativity and “fair use” — a particuarly timely discourse amidst the AP’s preposterous lawsuit against Fairey.

Watch the full program online for brilliant insight into the absurdities of today’s copyright legislature and the unnecessary ways in which it hinders the inevitable mergence of  today’s mashup culture.

INTERNET ARCHIVE

Web entrepreneur, activist and digital librarian Brewster Kahle, possibly the most influential figure in today’s digitization movement, is out to gift the world with universal access to knowledge.

Since 1996, his Internet Archive has amassed an enormous collection of cultural artifacts — text, audio, moving images, software, even archived web pages — offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars and anyone else interested in the cultural anthropology of our civilization.

We really need to put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. If we don’t do that, we’re going to get the generation we deserve — they’re going to learn from whatever it is they have around them.

Inspired by an inscription above the door of the Boston Public Library — Free To All — Kahle set out to, essentially, “one-up the Greeks” by building a hub of culture that puts Egypt’s Library of Alexandria to shame, using technology to bring all of the world’s knowledge to as many people as want to make use of it — everything that was ever published and meant for distribution available to anyone who ever wanted access to it.

Kahle’s TED talk is an excellent introduction to the many facets of this monumental movement, which will no doubt reshape today’s relationship with history and tomorrow’s conversation with today.

Explore the Internet Archive and, while you’re at it, consider that the very act and opportunity of doing so makes you the envy of the Platos and the Gutenbergs of history. And, really, how incredible is that?

BP

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