Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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On Context, Imagination, and STEM vs. ART

Go read this whole interview with John Seely Brown. It’s awesome. Here’s a few of my favorite bits.

On content versus content:

Remember that image of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down? Well, the photo was actually cropped. Those were Americans pulling the statue down, not Iraqis. But the cropped photo reinforced this notion that the Iraqis loved us. It reshaped context. Milennials are much better at understanding that context shapes content. They play with this all the time when they remix something. It’s actually an ideal property for a 21st century citizen to have.

That’s as good an explanation of what McLuhan meant by the medium is the message as I’ve read.

On creativity versus imagination:

The real key is being able to imagine a new world. Once I imagine something new, then answering how to get from here to there involves steps of creativity. So I can be creative in solving today’s problems, but if I can’t imagine something new, than I’m stuck in the current situation.

I really like that distinction. Imagination is what drives vision, creativity is what drives execution. Both have huge amounts of value, but they’re different things.

On the dangers of a STEM-only world:

Right. That’s what we should be talking about. That’s one of the reasons I think what’s happening in STEM education is a tragedy. Art enables us to see the world in different ways. I’m riveted by how Picasso saw the world. How does being able to imagine and see things differently work hand-in-hand? Art education, and probably music too, are more important than most things we teach. Being great at math is not that critical for science, but being great at imagination and curiosity is critical. Yet how are we training tomorrow’s scientists? By boring the hell out of them in formulaic mathematics—and don’t forget I am trained as a theoretical mathematician.

Not to talk about McLuhan too much, but he also deeply believed in the value of art and artists as the visionaries for society. I think there’s obviously a lot of room here and the reality of the focus on STEM is that we have so far to go that it’s not like we’re going to wake up in a world where people only learn math and science. But I think the point is that the really interesting thoughts that come along are the ones that combine, not shockingly, the arts and sciences.

Again, just go read the whole interview. It’s great.

January 14, 2014 // This post is about: , , , , , ,

World War II and Imagination

[Editor’s note: After writing my post about imagining the future the other day my friend Martin emailed me the following response. I thought it was super interested and asked if he minded me posting it here. He agreed and here it is.]

Per your “floating future” post – been thinking a lot about this idea lately, where has all the big thinking gone. Been thinking about it for a couple of reasons. One has to do with World War II.

On the one hand, I’ve been helping my son study post World War II America in his sophomore social studies class. And on the other, I’ve been reading a fair amount of late-40s-through-50s fiction (Cheever, Roth, Salinger, Updike, etc.). And I’ve been amazed (probably due to my ignorance) how long a shadow that war cast over the subsequent decade, on a very personal level.

I’ve been wondering if exposure to such massive, global thinking during the war made “big” thinking possible in the 1950s in a way it hadn’t been before. Think about it; guys from little towns across America – guys who had probably never been out of their state, let alone out of the country – were suddenly involved in supply chains that literally ran around the world. Guys who had never seen more than a hundred or two hundred people together at a time, suddenly involved in battles involving thousands and thousands of people, from dozens of countries, with machines that had been invented expressly for these purposes.

I have to believe that got them thinking that anything – or a whole lot more – was possible. And I don’t think the mass of folks today are exposed to that.

The other thing that this makes me think about is the negative effects of the rush to monetization. If you have to make something pay right now (or in the next 3, 4, 5 years, etc.), you have to think differently about it than if you just open your head and think “what if?”. For all the complaints about companies like facebook and twitter and groupon that didn’t turn a profit, you have to admit that they are bigger ideas than ones that could cash in (that is, generate revenue) quicker. I wonder if that’s because monetization, to be believable, has to be based on the here and now – economic realities that exist currently – and that really big thinking, real game-changing stuff, relies on economics and realities that haven’t happened yet.

Or, to use a sports metaphor, in soccer, the great goals are often scored when someone passes to the space that someone is running to, not to where he is.

November 10, 2011 // This post is about: , ,

A Floating Future

For as crazy as these drawings of raised and floating airports are, they sort of make me wonder if we imagine big things anymore. When’s the last time you saw a rendering or drawing of an imagined future (other than the next iPhone)? Sure we have the xPrize and that sort of thing, but what about just every day crazy imaginings and excitement? Where has that energy gone? I guess a lot of the same people who would have been drawing crazy pictures of floating airports 80 years ago probably make stuff on the web … But it doesn’t seem like that can be the whole answer.

November 9, 2011 // This post is about: , , ,