The formulaic modern keynote

Eric Garland Uncategorized 2 Comments

It’s fascinating to watch so many people attempt to grapple with the authority-media matrix lately. It was tripped off by fallen media darling Jonah Lehrer, but is spreading rapidly to a much bigger debate about the intellectual environment. It is overdue. We are in productive territory.

I’m not the only person to raise questions about the type of content that actually achieves popularity these days. Author Ian Bogost has a funny and disturbing post about how the intellectual’s desire to make it big on the speaking circuit leads him or her down a path of formulaic and shallow ideas. To prove it, he invented a fake keynote or “TED talk” that is amusingly close to what you might actually find at a conference these days.

The worst part: it’s actually easier to craft thoughts in this shape (if you can stomach it) than it is to do the real work of crafting sophisticated new ideas—to do “innovation,” to crib a popular speaking keyword. Don’t believe me? Here’s a general purpose keynote speech or TED talk filled with nonsense I whipped up in fifteen minutes:

I’m here to talk to you about the biggest challenge facing upper-class Western society: ideas, and how to understand them. What is an idea? What do ideas do? Scientists have shown that hearing words makes you hear ideas. And ideas are what make us human—we’ve learned so much from neuroscience, and we’re learning more all the time. That’s why I’ve devoted the last twenty years to paid ideation, and why I couldn’t go any longer without sharing these important ideas with all of you.

Imagine an idea. Where does it live? Not in your head, but in my pocket. In my bank account. My bank account likes ideas. It’s a sponge for ideas, much like the human brain. A bank account is really just a human brain. In other words, banks are a kind of cognition, and banking is a kind of neuroscience.

When we begin to see the world like this, thought as a kind of banking, so much makes sense. Ideas can “have currency.” Ideas can “circulate.” See what I mean? Thought is just nature’s way of banking. It just took us humans to come along and establish the formal structures we call “banks” to help increase the flow of ideas, to help them circulate. What is money, after all, but latent ideas?

And what’s really scary? I’ve heard dumber stuff out there.