Steven Pinker’s TED Talk: Is the world getting better or worse?

I read Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, and came away more optimistic about humanity. We’ve made remarkable progress in even the last few decades, not to mention the drastic difference in the human experience over the past two centuries.

The book, though, is filled with an extraordinary amount of data backing up his arguments and is slow going.

TED recently released this video of Pinker’s TED Talk on the subject. In just 18 minutes, Pinker clearly makes his case. If you don’t want to make time for the book, this talk will suffice.

Sebastian Junger’s TED Talk: The consequences of a more disconnected society

This theme, that it’s all about relationships, keeps appearing in what I’m reading and watching. 

I watched this sobering TED Talk today by the author and war correspondent Sebastian Junger. It is a pointed indictment of a culture that is more disconnected and less tribal than ever. 

The rise in PSTD among returning soldiers, he asserts, may be more about the culture they’re coming home to than it is about their combat experiences. 

We are wired for community, for connection, to be a part of something beyond ourselves. If our culture is trending away from genuine, face-to-face human relationships, it’s on us to cultivate that connection. Our health and well-being are dependent on it. 

The quality of your relationships will determine the quality of your life. 

Kurzgesagt: The universe is crazy big

This video* is chock full of insights that clarify complicated concepts about the size of the universe.

And it’s a sobering reminder of just how small we are. The video points out that the local group of galaxies—that includes our Milky Way and the neighboring galaxies that are close enough to ever possibly consider exploring in some way—make up .00000000001 percent of the observable universe. The rest of the universe—basically all of it—will forever be beyond our reach.

In the very distant future, though, most galaxies will be so far from us that their light will never reach Earth. If humans are still here, or if intelligent life exists elsewhere, those future generations won’t see any signs of this vast universe that we know we inhabit.

How nice to be alive in a time of peak, supersize existential angst.

Kurzgesagt (which apparently means “in a nutshell” in German) is a brilliant YouTube channel that uses impeccably crafted, beautiful animated videos to explain science “in a nutshell”, as they say.

*via Kottke

It’s all about relationships

I somewhat randomly clicked on this TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger this week.

He has carried on the research in one of the longest running research projects of its kind, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 75 years data has been collected that has led to some clear answers about what makes for a good life.

Younger people tend to predict that fortune and fame will lead to happiness. That prediction doesn’t hold up.

Studying older people who have lived more life shows there is one key indicator for happier and healthier lives.

It’s actually simple and ultimately rather obvious. According to Waldinger and the study’s research, this is your ticket to a good life:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It’s all about relationships.

Not only will you have a happier life if it’s built around positive relationships, you’ll live a healthier and longer life as well:

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Even brain health and mental function were notably better later in life for those who reported stronger connections in their relationships.

Waldinger closed his talk with this:

“The people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships—with family, with friends, with community.”

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

I think most people will say they want a life filled with good relationships, but how often are we intentional about investing in our connections with family and friends and community?

What if you “leaned in” to the relationships that matter most? Imagine making family and friends your true priority in the way you spend your time and where you devote your greatest energy and creativity.

If you want a satisfying life, career success and financial well-being should be subordinate to the strength of the connections you make with the people who matter most.

If you don’t have close friends, make some. If your family life is suffering, get busy making it better. If you don’t have a community that you support and that supports you, do something about it.

Life as a human here on Earth is ultimately all about relationships.

“There isn’t time—so brief is life—for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving—and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” –Mark Twain



To Scale: A short film to put you in your place

Those pictures of the solar system with all the planets lined up in the order of their orbits are nice ways to visualize where things are in general. But they are nowhere close to representing the true scale of the size of the solar system.

Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh made this amazing short film that actually shows the solar system to scale. They had to go to the desert and use seven miles of open land to put the sun and the orbits of the marble-sized earth and the other planets in their proper perspective.

Watching this film is seven minutes well spent. It’s a clever concept very well executed.

And it’s a great reminder of not only just how small we are (that seems to be a theme here) but also how we tend to underestimate the vast amounts of emptiness out there. Only a tiny portion of the universe is tangible.

It’s good to be here.

How wonderful to be anywhere at all.


Show your work: Star Wars

Seeing inside the process of a craftsman or artist makes me appreciate their work more. Knowing how the magic is made doesn’t diminish the magic; it enhances it. 

And that kind of transparency inspires me to push through the messy misfires and tedious small steps on the way to making my own art. 

Even the world’s greatest masterpieces didn’t emerge instantly pristine. Imagine how many discarded drafts and crumpled sketches and trashed recipes came before the lauded final product. Trial and error and daily effort and persistence don’t grab headlines, but the art wouldn’t be art without the work. 

Want to make something great? Do the work. 

Inspired by Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work”, I regularly share behind-the-scenes glimpses of projects I’m working on. Let’s demystify the creative process and encourage others to dive in and make something remarkable, too.  

All of us can make art. If it’s something you care about and making it would be meaningful to others, it’s art. Your work, your hobby, your passion. 

I love this video that was just released showing the work being done now on the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

This is the kind of thing you would usually see only after a film has been released. But the creators are “showing their work” in progress, and it gives a sense of just how much they care about what they’re making. Now I have a new hope (see what I did there?) for the future of this grand story. 

Staying beginners

Tony Fadell, the former Apple employee who led the original iPod team, talks about the importance of “noticing” in this TED Talk about design.

He refers to his old boss, Steve Jobs, and his continual exhortation to his staff on “staying beginners”, to constantly try to see the world with fresh eyes and as the customer might see things. 

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” –Shunryu Suzuki