This past Saturday we had the opportunity to attend a symposium at Pratt Institute as part of their “ReIGNITE!” series during alumni weekend. The event brought together a group of panelists from across a wide range of disciplines speaking on ideas related to redefining the good life and reconsidering creative value in the 21st century. Lead by author Kurt Anderson, the day included talks by filmmaker Arun Chaudhary, artist Mary Temple, environmentalist David de Rothschild, artist Jean Shin, architect Carlos Zapata and futurist Andrew Zolli.
With an overarching theme that left plenty of room for interpretation, on first take the individual presentations seemed to lack cohesion, but while they were certainly diverse, by the end of the day, they resulted in a rich pastiche of inspiration that merely required a bit of thoughtful rumination to sink in.
Below find some of our takeaways from the day’s conversation.
Kurt Anderson set the stage by highlighting some of the cultural shifts that occurred over the past 25 years, a period he referred to as a “boom time” that has parallels with the “roaring 20′s,” leading us into the current recession. He noted that we are approaching the end of an era built on excess, where the average size of a house grew by 50% and automobiles became 30% heavier, while at the same time that average family size shrank and vehicles became 2% less efficient.
Though the old way of doing things is clearly no longer sustainable, as existing institutions fail, it creates room for new ventures to thrive. As an antidote to this, it’s time to think the unthinkable, but with an eye toward making things better. The driving force will be the amateur spirit which he sees as the American spirit – defined by passion, not being afraid of failure and confined by rules – which is manifesting itself in our renewed interest craft, tinkering and hacking.
Arun Chaudhary spoke on the power of nostalgia. While this utopian vision of the past can be an obstacle to change, as people long for the “good old days,” when used correctly, it can equally be utilized as an effective tool for pushing an revolutionary agenda forward. This is evident in our remix culture where the familiar and comfortable contexts are used to subtly deliver new messages
Andrew Zolli closed by examining the ways that humans formulate threats and the solutions to them. In one provocative visual, he placed images of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein side-by-side with one depicting environmental damage. Despite the fact that governmental estimates place the chances of being directly impacted by terrorists at 1 in 28 million and climate change at 1 in 6, as a country we’ve spent $1 trillion to address the former and virtually nothing to fix the latter. Why is that?
As a species, we tend to deal better with problems that are tangible, simple, personified, fast-moving and hard-wired, so Zolli noted, the challenge going forward will be reframing these abstract issues in a way that can clearly communicate their importance and inspire action.
[image courtesy Kevin Wick]