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Is this adult life?

At Aaron Swartz's memorial service, the Kenyon College commencement speech This Is Water was read, because DFW was one of Aaron's favorite thinkers. When I shared This Is Water at that time online with a high school student who sounded very much like the default DFW described in his speech, describing herself as unique at school among a sea of mindless drones, an older woman was aghast that I would share this work. Her position was that young people should not hear such a message, as they should consider themselves above and better than all those (presumably) average people around them.

Should young people hear a message like DFW's, or does it discourage them from believing they can do better than this?

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    May 18 2013: I agree with Lizanne Fritzie, and do not think it is necessary or beneficial to put others down in an effort to build ourselves up, which the statement you mention seems to do. We can recognize our own talents, skills, and unique qualities AND recognize qualities in others as well. I do not believe EVERYONE in the person's school was part of a "sea of mindless drones". Sounds like the student was tryng to put herself on a pedestal, and elevating her own importance. I think/feel it is more interesting and fun to recognize other's qualities as well as my own:>)
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      May 18 2013: I actually doubt any child at the school was as characterized.

      Young people in particular often go through a phase of what at least used to be called "alienation," a feeling of unfathomable difference, particularly if they happen to be raised in a setting that is intolerant of differences or that involves rigid and narrow top-down expectations.
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    May 20 2013: Maybe the older woman who expressed disapproval of the talk was a sad, weary caregiver to a dying husband. Under better circumstances she would probably see that a message promoting empathy and eschewing narcissism is appropriate for young adults. Advocating for free, clear, critical thinking cannot possibly be a bad idea for that circumstance. Reality, when viewed close-up can appear boring, routine, and frustrating, that's the nature in minutiae.But, hey, a hydrogen molecule is not water! Zooming-out can give a better, more compassionate view. I would have appreciated the message when I was an omniscient, indestructable college freshman around whom the Universe revolved.
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    May 19 2013: One more thought on this, the idea of interested or interesting is apt to this discussion.

    Interesting is inclined to have dead eyes if no one is interested in them, few could be as they are preoccupied with themselves.

    Interested is busy creating the future as this is still unclaimed territory available for the taking. He has a gleam in his eyes from the pleasure of living.
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    R H 20+

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    May 19 2013: Now we're talkin'! I would agree wholeheartedly with challenging students to evaluate, costructively and rationally, viewpoints that may be inconsistant with their own. As far as 'bleakness' goes, high schoolers can get pregnant, enlist in the armed forces (seniors), and get killed in cars, etc. The world is not all roses and fun. It can be 'in your face' sometimes. ;)
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    May 19 2013: I think the message like that of DFW, the true essence of it (the video and the speech) is what the young ones should hear more than the idea that they are too young to handle the essence of it.
    When I graduated as an engineer, I had to take what is called a grand viva voce. I was jubilant, confident, eager young man rearing to go and here was five of the famed professors who would grind me for an hour asking questions, doubting my answers, often frowning upon my enthusiasm. I was appalled by the very process of it. Why would they do that to me?
    It's only much later I knew why. They wanted to tell me from within the system that what I learnt at the classes was nothing compared to what had been intended to. Real learning happens in life outside of colleges.
    Just like DFW said : Just simple awareness will do.
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      May 19 2013: In the US the "grand viva voce" is called "orals." It is a standard requirement for the PhD in almost any field. I think of it more as a demonstration of the depth and rigor of questioning of assumptions and ideas that the candidate should expect in professional exchanges in scholarly life.
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        May 19 2013: It is a standard practice here for almost any professional degree. I remember with fondness that there were many with more damaged ego than I had :) One guy when asked about the ingredients of concrete mentioned everything but forgot water ! Funniest thing of it all is that we were given the chance of choosing our subjects of strength (So Mr. Mukhopadhyay what is your area of strength?) and get grounded in the process. I chose advanced surveying and theory of structure and almost repented :)
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          May 19 2013: Here you typically choose your fields also and submit a reading list, but it is understood that your panel is not confined to the readings you put forward and that you need to be ready to answer speculative questions to show you know how to think at the boundaries of your fields.
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        May 19 2013: Oh the professors are same everywhere I guess ! Because something like what you describe happen during the 'interrogation' (a student's term for the viva voce). If one chooses theory of structure, one may not be asked about equilibrium of a space frame in a given force field, but say how collar bones and a part of spine of a human body act to hold the weight of the head.
        Nice to know that the basic thinking process is examined everywhere not merely the theories.
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      May 24 2013: Yes. It's like a Thesis paper: When you turn it in, it comes back with a lot of red and notes about drop this change this, move this, etc.

      So you follow the notes advice.

      You turn it in again. It comes back, red ink everywhere, notes, etc telling you the same thing as before..

      So you follow the notes advice.

      You turn it in again. It is accepted.

      You feel pretty good till you read the paper and discover it is very similar to the first paper you turned in.

      :)

      It is not enough to think. One must be able to jump through the hoops.
  • May 18 2013: I disagree with a position that young people should believe that they are better than all those average people around them. I think a better position is that they should believe that they are potentially as good as anyone. The former position creates a attitude of disrespect for everyone around them. The latter is compatible with respect for others while believing in yourself.

    I took the link to the DFW video you provided. It is of course true enough, but it the message of the dullness of the on-coming reality to grim for new graduates? The need to ask yourself constantly about what is the value in education as you swim through a life filled with the WORK required to make you and the ones you love happy implies that those without an education cannot do the same. This is not true.

    Adults have to work to survive, to make their own happiness, and to achieve whatever other goals or purpose they believe to be worthy of their time and effort. I believe that an education should offer an expansion of general problem solving skills, communications skills, reasoning, knowledge, as well as the same set of things in a specific career choice, with the addition of confidence in being able to apply these skills. As you walk across the stage to receive a ceremonial recognition for your effort, the real take-away from an educational experience is a set of experiences, a set of academic tools and skills, and the feeling you have demonstrated your mastery of these skills with sufficient proficiency to be let loose in the world to apply them with your WORK.

    The sad truth that WORK is a wake-up call for many of today's graduates, and perhaps they are not expecting some of the realities DFW describes tells a story of a nation so bent on competition that they have forgotten the value in teaching WORK ethic to the next generation.

    They will learn soon enough about mundane life.

    Let's take advantage of the high positive energy from graduation...then let them learn on their own.
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      May 18 2013: I would hope that a solid work ethic has been instilled by the time of graduation from university! I have always worked very hard, but I am astounded at the work ethic of my children, one a teen and the others in their twenties.

      I wish the video were less leaning toward the very bleak caricature of working life, because work does not feel like that to everyone. The important message to me in the video is the matter of how to view those with whom one shares a boat. It is not that that is the life that all those others are well cut out for- other than the enlightened few.
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      May 23 2013: How did she swap confidence for uniqueness? What do we really know about the "older" woman? From what you saw, how would you define the older woman?
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          May 24 2013: ZX Style said: "...This might be true if you were a Harvard student, but the average college student will soon find out he is not unique and irreplaceable..."

          We could say, with some confidence, that Albert Einstein was an ordinary college student. Though some Dr.'s of Knowledge that inhabit the TED domain might disagree. :)

          “...Professor Weber, a German, was not particularly fond of the student who had renounced his citizenship and relied on his friend's lecture notes to pass all his classes...” ~http://www.sparknotes.com/biography/einstein/section3.rhtml

          To this date, however, he is still irreplaceable and unique. I think he was aware of the worlds infatuation with his work and persona. He had to be affected by it. He was, in the smallness of reality, a simple human being. He did show extraordinary mental attributes but they were overlooked by most of his Academic instructors. Not so with his personal friends, such as Michele Angelo Besso, and, Marcel Grossman.

          I agree that confidence is more durable in the long run, if built upon knowledge and wisdom.
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          May 24 2013: Actually, the "Question" is:

          "Should young people hear a message like DFW's, or does it discourage them from believing they can do better than this?"

          Your last assertion was (if you want to call that debatable):

          "...if you are being told that you are better than others you will fall down hard if you found out there are millions smarter/more ambitious/ hardworking etc etc. than you are.This might be true if you were a Harvard student, but the average college student will soon find out he is not unique and irreplaceable."

          In your comparison (Harvard student to average college student), you imply that Harvard grads are somehow isolated from learning common wisdom because they lack the simplicity of the average college graduate. At least, this is how I interpreted your statement. My response is to imply that perhaps, most average college students are not so average as some might suspect.

          I apologize for being too ambiguous.

          John
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          May 24 2013: "...Graduates from Harvard can, due to the connections the parents have, get great jobs immediately. Maybe I'm completely wrong on this, but that's my view on it."

          I share this view but know some Harvard Graduates who come from Rich families who are very hard working, durable and focused on bettering the overly human condition.

          I guess I should pose a question of my own, on the ambiguous nature of some videos vs. the written word. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes (former smoking advertisements as an example) an image can send the wrong message when writing about the subject can force one to substantiate their message more fully.

          Writing: "...there is nothing wrong with smoking cigarettes..." demands that I support that statement with some evidence. Producing a video advertisement that shows someone enjoying themselves while smoking a Cigarette, does not require such direct support.

          Describing someone of the opposite political affiliation requires the same support. A video with fat, cigar smoking, men in suits sends a resonate message without having to explain it further.

          I think we should take more responsibility for declaring and substantiating the stereotypical facts we put in a video.

          After all: this whole thing with Aaron Swartz has taken on political airs that have little to do with his decision to end his life and the reason why. We can never be sure why. But, some insist on using our limited resources to to chase after demons that may or may not exist, when persuasion is the only tool they have in Lew of facts.
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    May 18 2013: It seems, with your description of this woman, that 'book burning' has morphed into 'video squelching' and message censorship in a country that prides itself on freedom - of 'speech' in particular. So, an 'elitist' approach to educating young people is now appropriate? Young people are 'better' than others? Did this woman have a grey bun in her hair and carry a ruler? Ohhh, I'm sorry, am I being elitist, derogatory, judgmental? But I'm better than she is, right? Oh, probably not. I'm probably older. I guess I should keep my mouth shut towards my betters. Have we learned nothing?
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      May 18 2013: I think this is in part the question. There are materials people do not share with children until they reach a certain age (not considered age appropriate) and others they tend to to introduce with purpose. So this matter may be less about not letting someone have access to something freely available than not drawing attention to it.
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        May 18 2013: Alright, if that's what was meant, then there was nothing 'age inappropriate' about the excerpt. You mentioned it was a high school student. They are not 'children' but young adults. From my point of view, 'controlled access' is equivalent to censorship. But that's me...
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          May 18 2013: "Controlled access" was not the issue here. Example: there is a book at the library that, like other books in the library, can be checked out by anyone. Does the teacher choose to assign it for the class to read or not? Not assigning it is not controlling access.

          The question is not whether the talk should be on some kind of banned list. It clearly isn't.

          Would you recommend it to a young person because it is a perspective worth considering or not?
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        May 19 2013: Sorry Fritzie, It seems I've misread the question. I saw it as a question of whether or not the high school student should have been exposed, and this woman's perspective of 'young people...better than all those average people' had merit, not whether or not I agreed with DFW's message. I'll withdraw.
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          May 19 2013: No problem. The question is about whether the speech should be put forward explicitly for consideration rather than whether anyone agrees with the point of view. Many people who responded do agree with DFW's point of view, and others might not, but the question is not that. That question of whether one actually agrees with the point of view in the speech or how it was presented is being addressed as we speak, under the talk itself, which TED curators posted as their latest selection Friday.

          Rather, this question asks whether sharing this speech, among other things one might share, is productive or whether it is too bleak or otherwise not a worthwhile listen for the age group. I, for one, would share important points of view, whether or not I agree with them, because to me part of what education is about is giving students the experience of wrestling with a range of possible points of view. I think it is particularly useful to show students articulately expressed counter-points to what they already appear to be thinking.
  • May 18 2013: Fritzie,
    I believe self-respect, awareness and considering oneself exceptional is possible without demoting others to a position of inferiority!!
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      May 18 2013: That is certainly true! We are all unique in our own ways while also having a great deal in common. The uniqueness is what allows us to learn from each other and the commonalities what allows us to communicate and to have a basis for understanding each other.
  • May 18 2013: When one reads some of the things Randolph Churchill wrote his son Winston Churchill one feels very sorry for the future hero and can understand the growth of the esteem cult. Has any of the esteem group ever done anything like Churchill did in two world wars and his noble prize. Our speaker is just discussing the idea of being human.
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    May 18 2013: I don't see why the DFW talk wouldn't be appropriate to show a high school student. I think this talk would resonate with young people today.

    It acknowledges the tedium of life that exists between edits. Teenagers have greater access to cold realities than any other previous generation. They are exposed to the quirky tribulations of the adult world on a daily basis. They know all the nasty secrets. There is no sheltered philosophical high ground. If they have an internet connection they have an endless stream of adult disfunction flowing through their lives.

    I think the DFW talk actually creates a new mythology that is believable in a cynical world. It says…you think you may understand what you are watching around you but it's deeper and more meaningful than you may realize.

    I think it's a positive message that would ring true for many students. It renews a sense of wonderment for kids that are drowning in an ocean of human conditions. For me it calls bullshit on the truncated, sensationalized, decontextualized, and trivialized world of the internet.
  • May 18 2013: i think quite the opposite. if we give young people the idea that they should consider themselves above and better than all those average people around them, then we teach them not to try. why would they need to strive to be better when they apparently already are?

    i applaud your decision, and the older woman's reaction is indicative of the one of the causes in the decline in education recently. while well-meaning, such misguided beliefs are hugely damaging to our young people. while failure is disappointing and depressing, it's only temporary, and removing failure also removes success and that essential quality - determination to succeed.
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      May 18 2013: Your comment brings to mind the "growth mindset" from the recent TED PBS special- the idea that we can make what we become through our choices and our efforts.
    • May 18 2013: I can't agree with your statement Ben. It infers we should judge people on a sliding scale of ability, rather than on their nature. Solving mathematical problems or other complex skills doesn't necessarily contribute to the well being of a community. What is "better" is a question of context. It speaks to our values...not our desire to acquire intellectual superiority.

      I believe the drive to better oneself should arise from an inner need to improve one's understanding. (comparing oneself to others is a form of insecurity, and gives rise to inequitable power dynamics.)
      • May 18 2013: no it infers we judge achievement, not people, on what has been accomplished, exactly not the nature of a person. no teacher marks work on who did it, but the quality of the work submitted. it has nothing to do with intellectual superiority or ability, but on the finished work and nothing else. similarly, if work is given a poor grade, it speaks to the poor quality of the work submitted, and does not imply that the person who submitted it is inferior.

        this is not only exactly how society works - of course you pay more for the services of someone who is better at the job you need done - but it's good for all of society, so that we can have the best people in the best positions. i myself got poor marks in music, well earned because i'm terrible at it, which was hugely benefit to me and society since it kept me out of a dismal career.
  • May 18 2013: Hi Mary, - "The raw details of life" - was that a life he was portraying? - get up, rush to work - rush home - stop for food - eat, bed, get up...
    For many people it's all the life they know - but it's not a life. I'm 65. For the last 13 years I've been running a used bookstore where I live. I have no tv or radio. I seldom set an alarm. I make very little money - but enough. Clothes from Goodwill, food from the garden or the reduced rack. I usually buy it used or reduced or I do without.
    I've had jobs - usually less than a year at a time.
    You said, "There is a whole world out there......full of interesting individuals, and exciting things to learn......." and I completely agree. I traveled widely (on a shoestring) when I was young. met interesting people hitchhiking and riding in boxcars. picking up hitchhikers when I was driving - and doing exciting things and learning all kinds of lessons.
    I would show the Water video to kids but I would want them to consider that while many go there, it isn't much fun. "There but for fortune..." Or, as one of my son's favourite songs said, years ago, "Life is gonna suck when you grow up, when you grow up, when you grow up..." Much of Water could be the video for that song.
  • May 18 2013: Of course young people should hear this message.

    The message is about CHOICE. We can choose both WHAT and HOW to THINK at each and every moment of our lives.

    This is the very bedrock of what it means to be an adult human.

    Like DFW, I often get so involved in everyday frustrations and tedium that I react without thinking, without making a conscious choice. This is how much of life is wasted, by repeating useless thoughts and behaviors. When we are involved in the same situation for the 100th time in a single week, it is very difficult to take a step back and observe, think, and perhaps learn something new. This message is an important lesson that it is just difficult, not impossible.

    Another way to state this message: Thinking and behaving "better than all those (presumably) average people around them" is a choice.
  • May 18 2013: Hi Fritzie,
    As I said - expose them to it only if they know how to think and question and analyze. No doubt some schools do teach that, but my experience is that gov't, business, and schools give lip service to thinking and questioning and initiative, but mostly they just want you to do what you're told.
    Go back to the Water talk on TED and read the comments. James Gray and I have doubts about it's value. It surprises me that even among TED watchers, many thought it was a good talk. He does seem to be telling you to resign yourself to a rushed and largely meaningless life and here's how to keep smiling while you suck it up.
    But I thought it was a good talk if you looked below the surface message and asked yourself, "Is this a life that is worth living?"
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      May 18 2013: Bob, I did not get the impression that he was saying to young people to resign themselves to a rushed and largely meaningless life.

      I think many times the raw details of life are kept from the youth. I think in order to "protect" them, some parents do a disservice to their kids. And not only the parents, but society as a whole.

      I really enjoyed this small talk, mostly because what I took away from it is that we shouldn't walk around thinking that the "world revolves around us".

      There is a whole world out there......full of interesting individuals, and exciting things to learn.......
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      May 18 2013: It is a controversial talk because it could be interpreted as saying that everyone needs to accept a future of boredom and so forth, but from Mary's reply to you,, one can see a different message.
  • May 18 2013: I think young people should be exposed to as many different ideas as possible, but first - or along the way - they should be taught to question, analyze. search out the assumptions, and then question them.
    Sadly, schools don't teach any of those things. Business and government (but I repeat myself) don't want a questioning, thinking population.
    DFW's ideas in that talk are worthwhile when you are in the situation - don't just fall into the default reaction. OTOH, if this is a regular situation, perhaps you should be questioning a lot more deeply.
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      May 18 2013: Hi, Bob. I agree with your first paragraph, that high school-aged students should be exposed to a variety of points of view and original source material. I don't agree that schools don't teach analysis and questioning assumptions. Some do and some don't. I also do not agree that business and government prefer unthinking people, though I know many people believe that.

      But I'd like to keep the focus of the thread on the question of whether the DFW talk is valuable for young people rather than on what schools teach or what government wants, since those are discussed in so many threads.
      • May 18 2013: they don't prefer unthinking people, but then on the other hand they insist educators teach in such a way that that's exactly what we end up with.
        sorry to perpetuate the tangential topic.
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    May 18 2013: G'day Fritzie

    Psychologically at first no because it sounds as if it will categorise people into certain levels that's it however we are really talking about young people who are mostly quite more intellectual compared to lets say 40 yrs ago on average, this means they can usually think more for themselves these days.

    This could also spur younger people on to do better within themselves, reverse psychology so my answer is yes.

    Love
    Mathew
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      May 18 2013: I agree with you that young people are more able to think for themselves than many people realize.
      • May 18 2013: i agree but that needs to be taken with a note of caution. while young people are very intelligent, the basket of knowledge and experience which they're applying their intelligence to is of course smaller than older people. not so long ago a student asked me if bigger telescopes allow us to see more distant objects, why don't we just build a huge one? an intelligent question, he just didn't know about mirrors deforming under their own weight.
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          May 18 2013: G'day Ben

          Of course you have a point here, I wouldn't bandy this around unwittingly.

          Love
          Mathew
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          May 18 2013: A questioning attitude is a wonderful thing.
      • May 18 2013: i agree. we only get problems when people make choices based on incomplete information, usually because it hasn't even occurred to them that there might be more that they don't know.
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    May 24 2013: Actually, the "Question" is:

    "Should young people hear a message like DFW's, or does it discourage them from believing they can do better than this?"

    Your last assertion was (if you want to call that debatable):

    "...if you are being told that you are better than others you will fall down hard if you found out there are millions smarter/more ambitious/ hardworking etc etc. than you are.This might be true if you were a Harvard student, but the average college student will soon find out he is not unique and irreplaceable."

    In your comparison (Harvard student to average college student), you imply that Harvard grads are somehow isolated from learning common wisdom because they lack the simplicity of the average college graduate. At least, this is how I interpreted your statement. My response is to imply that perhaps, most average college students are not so average as some might suspect. "Yes. I can drift off from the main topic...."

    So... How do you think the image of an "old" woman expresses the "absolute voice of death"? This is what is shown in the video, which no longer exists.

    John
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      May 24 2013: I believe you are responding to ZX here, as you quote from his post.

      If you want him to see your reply, you might want to repost your comment where you intended it.
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    May 24 2013: I have not had many of the experiences you talk about ...exams..and grilling humiliating initiations...but I have hit my head on the giant truisms of life that violently conflicted with what I was led to believe was true..as a result I spend countless ,years trying to witness the system at work that portrays itself as a benevolent caretaker of the chosen...I have witness a patterning of diminishing the relevance of the lesser by making them voiceless within the sea of the dominant ideology. Things that are not suited to this ideology are denied,diminished or kept out of sight. As a inidivdual who wishes to lead a life as genuine in my ethics and morals as my self control would allow..a speech in my teenage life that forewarned of later truisms would have greatly reduced the nomadic wanderings in order to FIGURE it all out. I feel that it is a cruel act to enable good humane people to participate in inhuman practices(greed,hoarding,imperiialism,pollution,racism,sexism,,ect) without fully realizing what they are doing. This manipulation of facts and truth allows me to participate in organized violence by entrenching me in an ideology of i beliefs,behaviours and laws as the norm. that I am not in agreement with...I am very sad that my culture has such a blind spot for its own faillings and is to this day unable to fully take control of its own behaviours which it still perpetuates as it drags in each new member.
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    May 24 2013: It appears the video is disappearing all over the internet. It's no longer here:
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/09/this-is-water-glossary/

    If found out the reason:

    "...If there ever was tragically visceral evidence of how remix culture fuels creativity and copyright hinders it, it is this: Despite – or perhaps because of – millions of views in less than a week, The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust has filed a copyright claim against the wildly popular YouTube version of the wonderful short film adaptation of Wallace’s timeless 2005 commencement address..." ~ http://exp.lore.com/post/51035141809/if-there-ever-was-tragically-visceral-evidence-of

    Copyright violation!
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      May 24 2013: Thanks. The video version was not actually important for my question. The sharing of the video on the site only made the question timely.

      I expect either the audio or written version can still be found online, as there is no remixed aspect to those.
  • May 24 2013: I have been thinking about the growing issue for a long time:espeically for students,how to guide them not just focus on competition with peers but recognize themselves potential and interests to focus on,to study hard,to enjoy themselves as well as enjoy in the society.
    Infact young students are in growing of mental and physical both,if schools' education focus on too much competition among peers.evil of jealousy would grow in their bodies,it is really poisonous for young people's growing as well as for the society.
    There are some of disasters happened in China:some of students for jealousy of their classmates' performances are better than their,they hurt their classmates in very cruel ways.Of course it isn't thoes jealous students be appealed but our schools,parents,the society,what education we offering for students?
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      May 24 2013: There is a social dimension to this that I think differs in different countries and different locations in the same country. I feel grateful that the high school where my daughters went and the one where my son does do not foster a competitive atmosphere among students. I think that competitive pressure comes often from home.
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    May 24 2013: Is it just me or has the video been removed?
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      May 24 2013: I guess it disappeared.
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        May 24 2013: So, I guess you need to edit your Question? I suggest you plug in the part 1 and 2 of David's Speech so eveyone can hear what he said. It would support your Question, as to weither or not children would be inspired by such candor and self-introspection. I believe High school (people) would be interested.
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      May 24 2013: You complained about it and they listened?
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        May 24 2013: Touch me. Actually, I suspect The New Yorker is behind it somehow. Bad Press and all that.
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    May 18 2013: In answer to your question, I would say it depends on what character you most empathize with in the video. If you are a beautiful, self-centered, inexperienced person who thinks they have life pretty well pegged, it may have a message. You may pat yourself on the back and realize your view of life has some relevance.

    Further: David Foster Wallace is cool. I don't think this video supports the implications in David Foster Wallace's commencement speech.

    It has some elements of personal bias about people, and situations David Walllace, in my opinion, did not intend to convey

    Sometimes visuals can take away from the message offered by the audio and this video is a fine example of how readers can be focused on someone elses personal bias, towards some personaities. while not having a real grasp of the original authors intentions or introspections.

    I would suggest this video offers the real message David Foster Wallace meant to convey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vET9cvlGJQw

    and part II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEjVnB7AeBQ

    Listen to David Foster Wallace's real Commensment speech which is best heard, not videolized, and you will understand what I mean.
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      May 18 2013: I agree that one would not want this message to be the single one. At the graduations I have attended in the last five years, I have noticed there were several speeches by different people with different messages.
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        May 18 2013: I would have to agree that David's original Commensment speech should be heard by all students, perhaps high school as well. I would hope that those students that give a commensment speech would seek originality and focus on something different from what others have given, something they have themselves experienced or learned.

        It's hard to be a musician and seek original stuff with so much stuff produced before you get on the active scene. But, it is the path one must take if they seek stardom. People like me are content to digest the implications and the message that the poets and philosophers offer.

        Mundane and redundent messages come in so many flavors. I sometimes wonder if originality actually exists on a general level in any given population of people or are only a few gifted with such talent. Are most of just like the monkeys that see and do?

        We should be thankfull for artists. They deserve more respect than we give them.
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          May 18 2013: I had heard the speech only as audio in Wallace's own voice and it was either that audio or the written transcription- I don't remember which- that I shared with the student.

          TED posted this video version yesterday which, as you say, is the videographer's interpretation rather than what DFW may have been visualizing.
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        May 19 2013: John

        I got the same idea from either?

        To me the question is do you create what you see or does what you see create you?

        To me he is saying you have a choice, if you acquiesce that is still a choice. More often than not you will acquiesce to something you do not agree with. That is the cardinal sin that will make you dead eyed. But it is easy because the collective, the majority has tacitly agreed to this reality.

        What is life? It is about overcoming barriers to reach goals. Without the barriers you arrive at a special flavor of hell that DFW describes. With this definition in mind pursuing goals is the antithesis of what he warns about.

        I agree artists are the ones we listen to.
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          May 23 2013: I agree, someone with solid objectivity could read the same message in the paraphrased video. However, those that don't see with such insight might get the impression that dead-eyed people look similar to stereotyped actors in the video. Younger, less experienced people might get the wrong impression of exactly what It is David Wallace was trying to say. It is that imagery that turned me off from the video.

          I see enough of that kind of projection in Television advertisements.
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    May 18 2013: it's a case of the human condition -in our minds, we are all the protagonist, which, from what we understand about stories, makes us the most important person in the story. Which is true.

    we are also all pretty average and like everyone else.

    the difficulty for most people is discerning the truth of the fact that we do not exist as one dimensional, unchanging creatures.

    as for young people being exposed to the real world, there is nothing wrong with people wanting to protect youngsters from what they perceive as harmful or negative.

    The world is a sh!t hole and life will treat everyone harshly at some point. I applaud anyone who cares enough to want to protect others. At the same time, my personal opinion is that we should live and let live and the best thing to do when you believe in something strongly is to keep it to yourself (he says, splashing his strongly held belief all over this talk).
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      May 18 2013: I think you are right that people are their own natural reference point. There are differences among people in what they think young people, or any other grouping of people, should be protected from seeing/hearing/knowing/considering.
  • May 18 2013: Hi Dear Fritzie Reisner,why can't I see the talk?when I clicked it.It reminded me:no access,too bad.
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      May 18 2013: Try again or go to the Talks page, where it was posted yesterday. I just clicked on my link and it came right up.
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    May 18 2013: Poppycock, what was the reaction of the high school student?
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      May 18 2013: Well, the woman immediately started in telling the young person (whom she did not know personally) that she shouldn't pay any attention, because she was "exceptional" because she was "aware" among so many who were not... So I don't actually know whether the student considered the DFW or just basked in the easy praise.
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        May 18 2013: I would send it to at least a few dozen and see what the reaction is. If it does not register the point is moot anyway.

        I would be more aghast that the status quo (water) is so clouded so as not to consider some thought provoking art like this.