‘Astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.’ – Benjamin Bratton
Benjamin Bratton is an associate professor of visual arts at the University of California in San Diego. On the side I guess he’s a sort of closet futurologist too. He writes about the world, culture and technology and so on, and then draws conclusions by imagining how what’s going on now will play out in a more distant tomorrow. Speculative non-fiction, if you like.
He was making the above statement during a TEDtalk, which, for the uninitiated, is a kind of festival/conference movement for sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’.
They invite experts from various domains – technology, entertainment, design (hence the acronym) – to speak on those subjects in which they are expert, but in language that ought to be accessible to those who are not. Or as Bratton says, 'smart people who do very smart things explain what they're doing in a way that everyone can understand'. A sort of Academia for Dummies, though in a non-insulting way.
Anyway, so the interesting thing is Bratton’s speaking at this event to criticise it, in fact his talk is entitled - ‘We Need to Talk About TED’.
His basic concern: The effect of over-simplifying ideas to make them easy to understand, beyond a certain point, compromises the very idea you’re trying to share. In his words:
‘Instead of dumbing-down the future we need to raise the level of general understanding.’
Which made me think. About whether Bratton had put his finger on a wider issue. About whether this is really a growing cultural trend that goes way beyond TED talks and into how we’ve learned to think about all sorts of things – education, health, politics, parenting, relationships and yes, perhaps even our faith.
Is our default expectation that the mountain ought always to come to us rather than us to it?
Do we think whatever we’re trying to obtain – whether knowledge, character, maturity or anything else – ought to be automatic, or easy?
Have we dumbed things down to the point that our standards for what we ought to be, and what we expect one another to be (spiritually, morally, socially), have dropped?
Bratton fears TED has become a forum for ‘taking something with value and substance and coring it out so it can be swallowed without chewing.’
Turning meat into milk.
I’m wondering whether the same can be said for how we’ve learned to expect the world, and maybe even our faith, to be.
What do you think?
Has a habit for comfort compromised our calling?
Have we sacrificed what’s best for what’s easy?
Have we learned to expect a crown without a cross? Power without prayer? His presence without our pursuit?