Tag Archives: iPhone

(ON TOPIC) “The Listserve”

As of this afternoon, I have 100 separate email threads in my inbox from strangers all over the world, most recently an 18-year-old guy from Singapore who’s telling me how nervous he is to begin mandatory army service next year. One week ago, I wouldn’t have seen these virtual conversations coming.

Let’s journey back. About seven months ago, my brother told me about something called “The Listserve.” In short, those who sign up for The Listserve receive a daily email from someone around the world. The topics of these emails vary, as they reflect the journey of the individual who has been chosen by a lottery to share his or her story on that given day. As of today, there are 23,323 subscribers.

TheListserveWebsite_7.21.13

As an example, one of my favorite Listserve emails is from an English teacher in rural Vermont who chose to share wisdom she’s acquired from her students, ages ten to fourteen. Things like:

  • Always wear socks
  • Don’t eat yellow snow (and if you find something brown on the ground, it’s probably not chocolate)
  • Never try to ride a shopping cart down a hill
  • Don’t be mouthy to your parents
  • If you ever love two people, go with the second one because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen in love again

What’s interesting in reading these emails each day is most of them get me thinking about my own life and how I’d encapsulate it into 600 words for over 23,000 strangers to digest. My brother and I once talked about what would happen if we won the lottery. He said he knew exactly what he’d write. I said I had no idea what I’d write in spite of thinking about it every day.

Journey again with me into the recent past as I’m sitting on a beach in Tel Aviv at the end of an incredible 3-week Israel exploration. I vowed to put away my iPhone during my trip, so naturally I was checking my email on said beach when I received the email. The Email—capital “T,” capital “E.” My reaction was surely similar to those of other previous Listserve winners:

Oh crap. Oh crap…Oh crap!

While I didn’t have a computer to type up my response, I grabbed the journal my brother gave me before I left for my trip (Thank you, brother!) and started scribbling ideas, and by ideas I mean incoherent bullet points. My 48 hours was running out. Beyoncé’s “Halo” gracing my ear holes, I buckled down and typed the following on my iGadget:

Ten years ago I saw “Toy Story” and vowed to work at Pixar when I was older. Now two-and-a-half colleges and a dozen internships later, I work there.

Eleven years ago I stood as a bar mitzvah in front of my peers and family members, all smiley Cheshire cats, only to realize that I had no idea what religion really meant to me. Now over a decade later, I’m currently in Israel meeting four cousins I’ve never met because the only truly religious experiences I’ve had since my bar mitzvah have taken place at the four Beyoncé concerts I’ve attended.

Twelve years ago I realized I was gay, or at least different enough to feel defeated when a classmate called me a faggot while playing basketball in gym class. Now I’ve been out to everyone in my life for almost three years and am learning that writing helps me channel my earlier negative anxieties into something positive.

This is all to say that I’m learning about the power of knowing your history, of being able to continually connect your present experience with the past—the now with the then. This has manifested itself in my three-week trip to Israel, during which I cried at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, while walking on a recovered path from a concentration camp and sat with four Israeli soldiers who explained that conscription requires all Israeli citizens at the age of 18 (with a few exceptions) to enter the military. These soldiers—my youngest cousin included—are in their early twenties but feel to me to be a decade older. I listened quietly as they recounted stories of people like Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who worked his way into Syria’s political hierarchy in the 1960s until he became the Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defense, which my new Israeli friends believe allowed Israel to find success during the Six Day War. The pride in their voices was palpable. I thought about how while young Israelis are protecting their tiny country, us young twentysomethings are often lost in conversations that are mere regurgitations of things hastily read on our iGadgets en route to a job or internship (read: to the pursuit of an ever-growing career). This makes me wish I would’ve done one less internship and instead explored my family tree to learn more about my great grandparents who moved to America from Warsaw, Poland a long, long time ago.

I feel lucky to have had this time to explore my family roots. Time, that is, to “fill the tanks.” Joss Whedon, the prolific director/writer/producer, uses this phrase, and I love it. He believes in time away from routine to take in a new book, movie, or play. Or, for me, conversations with family members who live 6,000 miles away. I’ve been re-reading Peter Pan on my trip and I love the idea of Mary Darling literally tidying her children’s minds, which are confused and circular and comprised of zig zag lines. I like being open to a certain cultural messiness and taking satisfaction in being confused or surprised or both.

I won’t close with any commands or calls to action, because I don’t know the context surrounding your respective journeys. I will, however, finish by saying that I still can’t figure out how to best close an email. Regards and Best feel slightly cold, Love is often too strong, and Cheers…well I’m just not cool enough to use Cheers.

I hope that this email will serve as the beginning of a larger conversation with some of you.

Beyoncé for life,
Jonathan Hurwitz
jonathanshurwitz@gmail.com
San Francisco, CA

P.S. If you’re lucky enough to have parents in your life, call them and say hello. Then call them one more time because they’ll surely want to talk to you more.

P.P.S. This is totally a command. Sorry I lied earlier.

I didn’t know exactly when it’d be sent out, but I quickly had an answer when my phone started buzzing the next night while watching “The Sound of Music” with my cousin. Rolfe was in the middle of telling Liesl that he’d take care of her, which means I was one happy Jew because pre-Nazi Rolfe is dreamy. In that moment, I learned of the most special part of The Listserve: the responses. While I don’t feel totally comfortable elaborating on them in great detail out of respect for the privacy of those who responded, I’ll say that I’ve heard from fellow gay Jews to a husband and wife who’ve been deciding whether to send their daughter to Hebrew school and who are now, because of my email, sending their daughter to Hebrew school.

The most profound things are inexpressible, so I’m afraid I’ve failed to relay what all these responses have meant to me. In any case, I look forward to continuing some of these conversations with some of my new virtual acquaintances. Will they last? I don’t think it matters. Like a portal, if only momentarily, I’ve been let into someone else’s existence. My virtual path has crossed their virtual paths, albeit briefly, and that’s pretty cool.

So…to Listserve, or not to Listserve? That’s the (21st century) question, really.

Thank you to the Listserve creators—Josh Begley, Yoonjo Choi, Greg Dorsainville, Zena Koo, and Alvin Chang—for making this experience possible. As Woody Allen might quip, you’re all beautiful people and a credit to the human race.

Beyoncé for life,
Jonathan

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(ON TOPIC) Goodbye America, Hello…Somewhere Else

Part 2: My Cousin Who Travels the World (And Why She’s a Voice of a Generation)

When the subway rumbled from a world below, my knees buckled and I clutched my red-cushioned seat, the kind you’d expect to find in a movie theater. Behind me, two classmates discussed their favorite cafés in Paris. It was my first film class at NYU.

“That’s where Amelie lives!” I thought, keeping my mouth shut out of fear of revealing what I considered at the time to be an extreme naïveté.

You see, I used to think it was luck that allowed people to travel abroad; by those confines, then, I wasn’t very lucky. Now four years later, I believe it’s more a combination of choices and money.

This is Allyn. She's my cousin. Allyn likes to travel. A lot.

Meet Allyn. She’s my cousin! Allyn was born a gifted mathematician and is able to work short-term jobs that fund her travels all around the world. (“Swimming and math. Two things people pay crazy amounts to learn,” she says.)

Allyn got the travel bug after participating in Semester at Sea during college. She recently graduated and has been wandering the world ever since. Allyn has administered the treatment for schistosomiasis to 54 patients while volunteering at a free medical clinic in the Philippines, and she’s also been flown to a vacation island and put up in a five-star hotel by prominent Chinese businessmen.

In other words, Allyn’s life isn’t normal. She’s using her acknowledged advantages as a middle-class American to tackle the disadvantages of those in other countries. It’s ballsy. As someone who’s been eternally tied to the social clock and therefore crippled by the idea of leaving America with no plan, I respect her happy-go-lucky frame of mind. She left the country this year with a one-way ticket, while I hopped on a plane to California with a printed Google map of restaurants and bars in the neighborhood to which I was relocating from New York City. This makes sense given our respective life mottos:

Allyn

1. Don’t make plans.
2. Expectations reduce joy.
3. Travel is the only thing that makes you richer, so waste all your money on it.

Jonathan

1. Always make plans.
2. Always set expectations so you can work to exceed them.
3. Happiness is the only thing that makes you richer, so waste all your money on Beyoncé concert tickets.

It used to be hard for me to talk to my cousin while she was living abroad. I think it was my early NYU-self acting up. I didn’t like that I was jealous, but I couldn’t help it. I was in the middle of my ninth internship while she was frolicking on exotic islands with Chinese businessmen. But now I’m working at Pixar, and that’s pretty cool, too. My path makes sense for me, and her path makes sense for her.

But I digress.

To return to the original questions: Is our culture worse off than it was decades ago? And is travel the only way to fix it? I hope not. People are always going to long for a previous era. (Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” offers a telling example of our eternal fickleness. As Gil yearns for the 1920s, Adriana says, “I’m from the ’20s, and I’m telling you the golden age is la Belle Epoque.”) And how can you say we’re culturally worse off when, in reality, we’re only able to experience a sliver of culture throughout the entirety of our short lives? My friends at NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour discussed this topic recently. “You’re going to miss almost everything,” says Linda Holmes. Sure, traveling may open your world, but your acquired culture doesn’t necessarily make you better. And it shouldn’t induce a feeling of superiority over those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel. Allyn, for one, has been to dozens of countries but always comes back, evermore humbled and appreciative of what her home has given her.

It’d be remiss to ignore the obvious caveat to this conversation as I sit on my couch, MacBook Pro on lap while perusing Comcast OnDemand and NPR podcasts (#thingswhitepeopledo). I’m lucky to be able to ask these questions. We’re lucky. In addition to the inevitable limit on our cultural intake, there’s yet another fundamental human limitation that prevents us from maintaining a global perspective in every given moment. We can’t always think beyond our screens to notice how lucky we are. Sometimes I feel guilty and selfish when blogging about things like this. It’s so about…me. Blech. Every time I say “we” or “us,” I have no idea if this is actually the case for a whole generation of people. Of individuals, you know?

It’s comforting in moments like to these to think of people like my cousin helping patients abroad, or the people in a small town in Connecticut coming together amidst a disgusting tragedy that hit a little closer to home. Our culture hasn’t gone wrong, you see. There’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff both here and abroad, just as there used to be, and just like there always will be.

Before Allyn and I ended our most recent conversation online, she wrote, “Ugh I’m bored, idk what to do with myself.”

No she’s not. She just has a flurry of choices before her and has yet to make a decision. She’ll make a choice though, and then many, many more after that. And you will, too.

Carry on.

To infinity and beyond,

Jonathan

(ON TOPIC) Goodbye America, Hello…Somewhere Else

Part 1: Dear Generation Me…

Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anyone you know?

-Eustace Conway

Dear Generation Me,

What’s the ethos of our age?

Christy Wampole says it’s irony, i.e., the hipster. I say it’s irony with a little bit of a technology-induced self-indulgence on the side—that I feel crippled by the ostensibly endless array of choices in front of me right now kinda feeling.

We, those anxious young twentysomethings, know that kinda feeling well.

You know us. In addition to Wampole’s article, The New York Times devoted a whole feature to us first globals who are increasingly seeking career opportunities abroad. Lena Dunham put them on primetime TV with HBO’s Girls. They’re also walking around in that thing called the real world—those recent college graduates, confused, innocently forlorn, and buried in student loans.

In my life, more and more people seem to be subsequently packing their bags for places like Spain and Thailand and China. Do I get a job, or travel the world, or both? is an increasingly normal question for us to ask ourselves and our bank accounts. I can understand the urge to travel, so my question isn’t, Why is everybody leaving? I think it’s more, What is everyone escaping from?

Party talk (read: half-drunken drivel) tells me it’s our culture. Someone I met recently at a holiday gathering launched into a speech about how he wished he was a part of Generation X, that post-WWII diverse generation united in a combat for change. “Music. Not that digitally manipulated CRAP coming from our iPhones,” he said. Grunge, hip hop, and rock with a political influence. While I appreciated his wild hand gestures, he lost me a bit because I’m not entirely sure you can be nostalgic for times of which you were never a part. (And what about the assassination of JFK and the Chernobyl disaster and Watergate, dude?! Gen X-ers may have had some great music, but I don’t think it totally defined the times.) Are times so bad that we’re being forced to long for a time we never knew, e.g. the hipster who raids the nearest thrift store to find a vintage tee from a bygone era?

But enough about them—let’s talk about us. (We love talking about us!) We’re a part of Generation Y. Or, more aptly name, Generation Me. We’re a more narcissistic generation, totally self-involved and lost in screens—TV, computer, iPhone. We text, and we blog, too, because we have lots of feelings and want to share them with the world! We’re irreligious and ironic. We also have more and more opportunities abroad at our disposal. I’ve seen friends and family leave the country as a walking outline, anxious to be colored in by some other culture somewhere else, and then return with feelings of confidence and reassurance. And sometimes superiority. This is the part of our story that I’m interested in.

Is culture failing us, and, if so, is travel the new Holy Grail to self-improvement?

Stay tuned. I’ll write back soon.

I swear I wear my Justin Bieber tee unironically (I think),

J-Hurtz

COMING UP–

Part 2: My Cousin Who Travels the World (And Why She’s a Voice of a Generation)

This is Allyn. She's my cousin. Allyn likes to travel. A lot.

This is Allyn. She’s my cousin, and she probably travels more than you do.

(SHORT NOTES) The Digital Age: A Fairy Tale


Once upon a 21st century morning, three women took their seats side-by-side on a crowded train.

The first woman texted something on her black Samsung flip phone, then closed it with a lusty snap. The other women looked over, jolted, and she sent an ostensibly apologetic nod back.

The second woman then pulled out her Apple iPhone 4S (White). Now all eying one another, the second woman slid her finger with a calculated velocity across the screen, sending a very angry multicolored bird hurtling toward a wall of very hungry green pigs. She tilted the screen slightly left, then slowly right with a quick nod of the head, telling her neighbors that said bird had crashed into said pigs as planned.

Next, the third woman pulled out her Amazon Kindle. The first two women smiled politely at her as she lightly stroked her case cover; it was dressed in “Kindle” stickers, which she’d thought about buying from Amazon.com while laughing maniacally over the NOOK® collection at her nearest Barnes & Noble. (She later tweeted: “See-it-here, buy-it-there, Suckaaaas.”) As she revealed the slick, spotless screen below the cover, the other women released faint gasps. The corners of their mouths slowly lowered, dejected albeit faintly roused.

As the third woman ejaculated silent shouts of victory, the train stopped. A fourth woman claimed the empty seat next to them. The women watched as she reached quietly into her Dooney & Bourke leather satchel and, in one swift motion, crossed her legs and produced an Apple iPad 2 (Black; 64GB) on her lap, as if by fate or magic or both.

The fourth woman sneezed, and legend maintains that if you were very, very quiet, a faint “Mine’s bigger than yours” could be heard.

And they all later relayed their respective accounts of the morning’s commute through passive-aggressive Tweets, except for the woman who didn’t have a smartphone. She just told her life partners (Petal, 41; Steven, 28) that she was really, really PO’d.

NOOK® by Barnes & Noble, Inc. All rights reserved. Used without permission, but who cares, right?!

 

(THE LONDON CHRONICLES) #4: Jude Law, Big Foot, and Sra. Fish Lips

Dear Reader(s),

Once upon a time, I waited in line with my comrade Juan Cocuy (pronounced Kuh-coo-ee) to get tickets to Jude Law’s last performance in some play you’ve never heard of:

Homeless boy. Or Juan?

TIME

EMOTIONS

FOOD REMAINING

3:10 AM Just woke up. Is this real life?
  • 1 PB&J
  • 1 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Blackberry & Apple bar
  • 1 Banana
  • 1 water
3:41 AM Legitimate excitement. We’re the first people in line!
  • 1 PB&J
  • 1 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Blackberry & Apple bar
  • 1 water
4:41 AM It’s cold out. First person has arrived, an aspiring actor from Boston. We shall name him “Big Foot.” Juan says: “I don’t like people.”
  • 1 PB&J
  • 1 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Blackberry & Apple bar
5:41 AM It’s still cold. Second person has arrived, a posh Spanish woman. We shall name her “Sra. Fish Lips.”
  • 1 PB&J
  • 1 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Blackberry & Apple bar
6:41 AM We’re standing up. The blood is flowin’. Things are good. (Wait. Where the heck is Sra. Fish Lips?)
  • 1 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Blackberry & Apple bar
7:41 AM Sleep.
  • Nothing
8:41 AM Talking to Big Foot. (No seriously. Where is Sra. Fish Lips?)
  • Nothing
9:41 AM Quiet reading time. Drinking coffee.
  • Nothing
10:41 AM Tickets in hand. Sra. Fish Lips found. Sleep please.
  • Nothing

Your mind takes you to funny places when you’re stationary for an extended period (Aaron Ralston/James Franco: I feel ya.), so I also recorded some of the questions that popped into my head throughout our wait. I’ll leave you with a random selection of the most poignant:

  • Will we be obligated to talk to the first people behind us? Who will they be? Boys? Girls? Jude Law fanatics? Antique teacup collectors?
  • At what time should I pull out my iPhone to maximize its battery life?
  • Will I get mugged?
  • What the fuck is this play about?
  • Why is the man cleaning inside shirtless?
  • Where did money come from?
  • WHERE THE FUCK IS SRA. FISH LIPS?
  • Why is Taylor swift so awesome?
  • No but seriously…what is this play about?

Until next time,

Jonathan

P.S. Watch Beyoncé’s new video. She’s cooler than you.

(ON TOPIC) Me, Beyoncé, and a Man Called Jeff

I love Beyoncé more than you do.

My eternal admiration can’t be reduced into words, so just trust me when I say that her concert last week was one of the finest spectacles I’ve ever seen, second only to the sight of the people of China crowding Tiananmen Square on China’s National Day. (I’m following an impulse right now as I type this and am thinking I’ll refer to Beyoncé as God from now on, k? Kewl.)

That said, what I can do is describe the series of unfortunate events preceding the magic that happened at Roseland Ballroom in New York City last Friday evening.

This is the story of how a man called Jeff saved my life.

——————————————————————————————

Cheese or chocolate.

Chocolate and cheese.

Cheese but no chocolate.

Just chocolate.

Two days before my trip to New York, these were the thoughts filling my head while my neighbors and I readied ourselves for a lip-smacking fondue meal at The Melting Pot. As I browsed the Internet, I inevitably ended up on God’s website (“God” seems disrespectful, yes? Let’s go with “G-d.”) and clicked on the Events tab. The following popped up: “Beyoncé will take to the stage at New York’s famed Roseland Ballroom for 4 Intimate Nights with Beyoncé, where she will perform her new album 4 in its entirety to a standing room only audience.” As I journeyed to the Ticketmaster site, my heart started racing like hearts do while in the face of greatness or love or both. Without looking at the price, I clicked “Find Tickets” and waited for the computer to confirm what I already knew in my brain place: All four nights were sold out. Sold out. Sold out. Sold out. The words started ringing in my head like I imagine that “I’m breaking up with you” movie line would sound if actually delivered in real life.

My heart sank.

Now, dear reader(s), you should be asking your smart selves, “If you’re the world’s biggest fan of G-d, how did you not know this?” And to that inquiry I must say: I really have no excuse. But please. Let’s move on.

My next move was instinctual: Browse Craigslist. I immediately sorted the sketchy dealers from the relatively sane people (Standards must be readjusted when dealing with Clist, penis references—images often included—characterizing the former and somewhat more vague penis references defining the latter.) and called someone who was willing to have a friend meet me with the tickets when my bus arrived two days later. Too convenient that I’d found a $116 ticket for $50? Yes. But when you love someone as much as I love G-d, emotions soar and potentially hazardous situations become just a little less so.

After programming Craigslist Man as “Beyoncé Guy” in my phone, he communicated details to me via text and two days later I got off a bus at Penn Station and began looking for a man in green. Life Lesson #1: If a man is simultaneously wearing a green hat, a green shirt, and green shorts, promptly walk away. Green Man grew antsy as we closely observed the tickets, so after failing to verify their authenticity with Ticketmaster and the venue box office, we decided to play it safe and walk away.

My heart sank even deeper than Rose’s necklace did after creepy Granny Rose secretly dropped it into the ocean at the end of The Titanic.

Later that night, I met my comrade Tyler to see the Broadway adaptation of “Catch Me If You Can.” After being slightly shaken by Eerie Green Man, my world was turned upside down and I found myself questioning everything I encountered that night. What was real?! What wasn’t?! Could “CMIYC” be adapted for Broadway when it’s such a brilliant movie?! In any case, I was thinking about G-d throughout the duration of the show. I knew her album well enough to know which song she was performing while I sat across the street at the Neil Simon Theater as Aaron Tveit rolled around in boxers. (This would be the only circumstance under which I’d neglect a near-nude Aaron Tveit.) Then I went home and angrily fell asleep.

It was now Friday, the last day of G-d’s exclusive engagement. “There’s no f-ing way I can happen to be in New York during an exclusive G-d engagement and not be a part of it,” I said to myself as I trudged around Manhattan, head down. I immediately hopped on my cell phone and decided to browse Clist one last time. The first ad read: “1 ticket for tonights show! Hard ticket in hand. First come first serve. Asking $140 or best offer.”

I sent a response immediately and got a call soon after saying from a man who told me his name was Jeff and that he was in line with an extra ticket. I told Jeff (“Zeus” sounds better, eh? Sorry to attribute erotic escapades to you, Jeff.)  to stay put and that I’d be there before he could say, “G-d rules all.” As I walked briskly toward the Roseland Ballroom, my uncertainty as to why a straight man would be seeing G-d was quashed by my overwhelming fear that I was somehow going to be scammed. This ticket search had transformed me into a walking ball of anxiety. Was Zeus really Green Man in disguise? Was he going to laugh at me when I ran up to him in excitement to see G-d during her live exclusive engagement? Was he going to be a plump girl wearing wide-rimmed glasses and sweatpants?!

When I got to the venue, I just knew it was going to go to be a good night when everyone stared at me as I searched the line for Zeus. I was one of the only white boys on the block, rendering me Waldo in a real-life game of Where’s Waldo?  But then a smiley man waved at me and I just knew everything was going to be all right because sometimes you just get gut feelings about things. I met him in line, gave him all the cash in my wallet (Stop guessing how much I paid for the ticket. You can’t put a price on G-d.), and finally secured my place in line to see the goddess herself, thunder thighs and all.

"You weren't the only white person, Jonathan! There are white people in the distance!" you may remark. No worries. They were headed to Trader Joe's.

As the concert began four and a half hours later, I could’ve easily let the night’s negative elements ruin my experience: The rain. My wet feet. My aching back. The girls taking Paul McCartney’s picture. The dolt next to me who shrieked every single song at the top of her little desperate lungs. The other annoying dolts who recorded the entire concert on their iPhones, therefore watching the entire show through the screens of their smart phones instead of watching G-d in all her live beauty like they paid $116 to $800 to do. But I tried to be understanding. Everyone was just trying to connect to the music in his or her own way. And I wasn’t going to let anybody—not even Mrs. Dolt—prevent me from doing so on my own. Sometimes, when a man called Jeff presents you with an opportunity to reunite with G-d, you just gotta jew what ya gotta jew.

This is the only picture I got before my phone died. In spite of the blurriness, I think you can still delineate G-d's beauty.

As I said at the top, I really can’t reduce the concert experience into words. The show was transcendent, and I left with the knowledge that 1) G-d is one of today’s best performers; 2) I can achieve my dreams if I want to; and 3) People with smart phones really, really suck.

If you’re interested in the concert itself, look out for the concert DVD in a couple months. Look for me. I’ll be the one in the front suffering from uncontrollable spouts of cries and shouts and then more cries.

And that, dear reader(s), is how a man called Zeus posted an ad on Craigslist and saved my life.

(ON TOPIC) TED Talks (and What They’ve Got Me Thinking About the World We Live In)

It’s my ever-strengthening belief that college students should quit school and instead carry out their own educational curriculum centered upon TED Talks. Seriously.

Founded in 1984, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas from the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design. Watching the videos for yourself will be far more entertaining than simply reading about them, so instead I want to write about what the TED Talks I’ve seen over the past year have taught me.

One memorable talk featured New York Times columnist David Brooks in a discussion on “new humanism” and the impulsive decisions we make as social animals. During the week I watched this particular talk, I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, in which he addresses the very idea of impulsive decision making—or “thin-slicing”—noting a case in which Hollywood producer Brian Grazer casted Tom Hanks in Splash off a gut feeling. Incidentally, I was also working on a Hollywood movie produced by Brian Grazer while reading Blink and watching David Brooks’ TED Talk. Everything came full circle, and, in this moment, I believed how incredibly connected everyone and everything is.

A few days later I watched MIT researcher Deb Roy talk about early infant speech and language acquisition. This got me thinking about how “I” is the most used word, which—in light of my thoughts on the Brooks talk—is ironic considering how connected our world is. This isn’t entirely surprising considering we’re all the centers of our own universes, but it led me to an idea that stuck with me as I continued to watch more TED Talks and to formulate this post about what TED has taught me. And so, what TED has taught me is the following:

We don’t fully understand human nature. We just don’t.

At the core of our issues—social, political, cultural—is a failure to connect, to truly communicate. There are myriad examples to prove how we seem to totally get material things, but I’m struggling to find evidence that we grasp the emotional life behind it all.

In the social sphere, I observed this failure every morning when living in Manhattan and relying on the subway to get around. I always remember wondering how many people were actually going somewhere they wanted to go. Here, thin-slicing illuminated every slouch, sigh, and glare, but also the less frequent smile and “Thank you” when someone offered someone else their seat. But I wish the latter wasn’t so surprising to me. I hate when I hold the door for someone and I get a confused look in return, as if the person is saying, “What the heck are you doing? Are you trying to be…kind?”

Let’s get political. Brooks cites several wars as evidence of America’s failure to acknowledge the importance of viewing rationality as inextricably linked to emotional decision-making. When the Soviet Union fell, for one, economists remained blind to the void of social trust as federal political structures disintegrated. Similarly, throughout the war with Iraq, our leaders seem to have been unprepared to address the cultural complexities in the shadow of 9/11. Brooks also discusses how we’ve attempted to restructure our educational system over the past 30 years, resorting to smaller schools and charters without hitting the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

So why do we suck at communicating? It’s easy to target Technology as the culprit. But here lies more irony, as technology enabling communication simultaneously seems to hinder it. I think the issue here is that, in short, technology seems to only move in one direction: Forward. The second we wrap our paws around a new Apple product, they’re already unveiling the next smaller and faster product from their proverbial belts.

I see this demonstrated clearly when looking at trends in movies and TV. The 1950s saw the rise of TV and subsequently spectacles like 3-D and Smell-O-Vision. Today, we choose reality TV over cinema verite because, not unlike the aforementioned spectacles, it’s easy, quick, and accessible. As a result, things like pay-per-view and DVDs get added to our nation’s growing piles of stuff not made available quick enough to iPhone and other smartphone users. They become rejects, tucked away even before they’ve had a chance to leave a mark behind. As things change, they also stay the same.

I always hate talking about problems without giving solutions, but I’m unsure if I’m able to offer remedies to a gap in our nation’s consciousness as a little 22-year-old. An article in the New York Times this week, however, illuminates one solution in a new process being used in medical school applications. It’s called multiple mini interview, or “M.M.I.,” which tests applicant’s social skills in a speed dating-like interview. Good communication is critical in the health care system, so what better way to achieve this than by filling the system with good communicators. Easy, eh?

I’ll conclude by once again citing Malcolm Gladwell, because he is a very smart dude and knows lots and lots of things. In Blink, Gladwell discusses the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which involves psychology research on differences in cultural sensitivities. For example, while East Asians are more attentive to context in light of their interdependent relationships, Americans remain more individualistic and independent.

With that in mind, I encourage you to unplug yourself from technology, look up every now and again, and connect. While we’re all the center of our own universes, interdependent creatures functioning through the relationships we have with others. Conscious gravitation toward the easy and material needs to be replaced by a greater awareness of the power of the unconscious. Then, and only then, will people be able to connect with one another on a deeper, more meaningful level and to truly be able to feel things.

Now go watch Roger Ebert’s TED Talk and cry.