TED Conversations

Lars Jan
  • Lars Jan
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • United States

Artistic Director / Founder, Early Morning Opera


This conversation is closed.

How can creatives use new technologies to increase empathy across cultural and geographic distances?

I'm fascinated by how people feel close to one another and how the answers to that question are evolving.

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Lars Jan

Lars is a media artist and founder of Early Morning Opera, a multidisciplinary art lab creating works about "America right now."

This conversation will open at 1:00PM ET on November 18th


Closing Statement from Lars Jan

THANK YOU ALL CONTRIBUTORS ! Lots of insight, passion and bunch of new threads to follow. I think the conversation veered towards empathy as relates to how we experience the world via the web, which seems like the trunk of this conversation. I'm also curious about what other branches will evolve — comments about universal translation and the future of gaming sparked my imagination in particular.

Benedict Anderson calls nations 'imagined communities.' We are pretty successful at imagining our affiliation with 300 million other folks, and that was the case well before the web and other social tools emerged. I'm constantly wondering about how we might expand that number to about 7 billion. 300 million and 7 billion both feel like infinity, at least to me. So I'm essentially imagining the same thing anyway.

Looking forward to connecting with you again, in thought or person as the case may be, somewhere down the line. Thanks again for sharing your passion! Onwards and upwards...

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  • Nov 18 2011: evoking empathy in 140 characters or less is difficult! How do we connect people's short-attention span experience of the world with those of people half a world away?
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      Nov 18 2011: Oo, great question. Ever shortening attention spans of a fickle audience are always a huge challenge!
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        Nov 18 2011: I have to believe that if the work is good, and speaks to them, people will pay attention for as long as it takes....
        • Nov 18 2011: I agree. I used to think I had ADD, but then I realized it was due to the strong feeling of not working on something that was worthwhile. Working on a project that I'm passionate about gives me clarity and focus like nothing else. I think that our lack of attention span comes down to a sort of subconscious cry for help-- "why am I doing this, what else could I be doing to make best use of my time?" These days, there's so much meaningless crap floating around that we have to wade through, but if we do we can do incredible work.
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      Nov 18 2011: Well, I'd say the first thing we do is start thinking about how we might reform visual culture to deal with this attention span issue. Just like the slow-food movement gained traction, I think we'll have a lot of folks advocating for a deeper experience with their media. How do we control the flood? And how will we deduce that screens are just plain addictive!
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        Nov 18 2011: That's ironic, I just went to my first slow-food event two days ago... But I think it's making an even greater push towards getting away with friends to places where cell signals and internet aren't an option. We've come to the point (when I say we, I mean I) have a lot of trouble with controlling our intake valve on communication and content.
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          Nov 18 2011: I have the same trouble with that valve. I think many of us do. I think we need to be educated, sort of like,

          don't drink forty glasses of wine or you'll be sick
          don't touch that electric burner
          don't look at a screen for 14 hours a day and expect when you close you're eyes as you try to go to bed that you won't dream of electric youtube sheep.
        • Nov 18 2011: I couldn't agree more. Cultural habits - via training and practice- should be established. (They are, to some degree, in early schools, but as those classrooms integrate screens more and more, those places are also overrun with media/high volume streams.)
          I really appreciate Lars' comment re: expectations about quality of life. When people complain about not having enough time to do "things" or connect in a 'real way' I think they could honestly evaluate their 'screen time' and change some basic and key things about their lives.
      • Nov 18 2011: Good question re: attention span. There is a great book "Proust and the Squid" - a treatise on the reading brain -- which asks much the same and likens this point in history to the transition from an oral culture to a literate one, chronicling Socrates cautions about the demise of analytical thinking. Sound familiar?
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          Nov 18 2011: I am truly terrified when I read literally anything from the 18th or 19th century. The level of literacy and deduction, though not shared by a majority of people at the time, is stunning when compared with what seems to be the idea innovators and commentators in our age — with exceptions of course.

          But, might we be a much more creative, if less literate, age? I'd wager yes. How do we raise both bars...
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      Nov 18 2011: It starts by telling us that we're not alone. It inspires us to do. And it connects us.
    • Nov 18 2011: I'm not sure if this evokes empathy but I like to ask people to think about all the material things that they have in their life. This allows one to analyze what they've accomplished or obtained and gives a sense of self worth. Then I pose the tougher question, how did you get to where you are right now and achieve these "things". Was it hard work? Was it luck? Ultimately what we "have" in our lives is the product of two things: hard work and our environment. Can you guess the ratio of which holds more importance?

      Over 99% percent of what we have is the result of our environment, not how hard we work. The difference between you, me, and a talented street vendor in Haiti is the location and families we were born into, not that a given party works harder.. But then again, I could be wrong. Please feel free to disagree or debate!
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        Nov 18 2011: Hi Augie, I like your thinking here, and I suspect you're on point. Question though, where do you get that 99% figure? From any study in particular? Curious...

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