Three Deep Videos and a Roundup

I am not normally a big consumer of online video content, but in the last couple of months, I’ve watched three very significant videos that together have turned my mind into silly putty. They are incredibly fertile, thought-provoking and demanding without being merely stimulating in an infotainment/mindcandy sense. This is protein, not sugar.

They total about 6 hours, but if you choose to invest a clear-brained morning or afternoon, you will not be disappointed. You should find that you’ve leveled-up your thinking about a lot of stuff that we talk about frequently.

I am also posting a roundup of the last couple of months, since I am now blogging on enough different venues to justify some periodic aggregation.

Three Deep Videos

The three videos: watch them in the following order.

The Century of the Self (HT: Cameron Schaefer and somebody I forget, on Quora)

What it’s about: A marathon 4-part BBC series about how Freud’s ideas, via his nephew Edward Bernays and daughter Anna Freud, created the modern PR and marketing industries, shaped politics, business and culture, drove secret (and nutty) CIA research and generally pwned the American national identity for a century (I rarely resort to gamerisms, but pwned is the only word that covers the case). I have my notes, summary and critiques filed away. I am going to be milking this one for insight for a long time. The video provides context for a lot of my writing that I was previously unaware of (particularly The Gollum Effect). I feel particularly dumb for having missed the direct historic influence of Maslow on market segmentation, via work at SRI.

Bruce Sterling’s Closing Address at Reboot 2009 (HT: Justin Pickard and Dorian Taylor)

In a way, this picks up where the previous video leaves off.  Where the BBC show starts in the 1920s and ends with politics and business slavishly pandering to a self-absorbed crowd in a civilization-level circle-jerk at the turn of our century, Sterling looks ahead to the consequences of our current state. It is a grand-visionary look at the next 10 years, covering the themes of collapse and survival. Justin Pickard called it one of his “ur texts” and it has become almost that for me as well. Sterling is a science fiction writer, so you should expect somewhat overwrought language. The talk is built around a few key words/phrases — dark euphoria, favela chic, gothic high tech, acting dead — that are annoyingly opaque until you’ve heard the talk, but stick in your head like viruses once you’re done; I find that I have to fight myself to not use the terms on random people, who haven’t watched the video.

Programming and Scaling by Alan Kay (HT: Jean-Luc Delatre)

Even if you don’t know much about programming (Alan Kay developed object-oriented programming at PARC), you should be able to get quite a bit out of this video. It is a great complement to the other two videos because it outlines the large-scale problems and opportunities in the current state of software engineering. With software eating the world, whether we get a Singularity scenario or a Collapsonomics scenario largely depends on whether or not some fundamental problems with software (involving entropy and bugginess) can be solved. Kay is optimistic. If he’s right, we’ll get the Singularity, and Lord Skynet will let us continue happily in our current state of self-absorbed idiocracy that the BBC documentary describes. If we fail, we get Bruce Sterling’s world: grim, with collapse looming, and rich and poor alike scrambling to adapt to inevitable decline.

The main reason I am strongly encouraging you to watch all three videos is a selfish one: I want to write about some of these ideas, and I suspect I’ll lose anybody who hasn’t leveled-up their thinking with this preparation. I’ll try to make any future essays on this stuff self-contained, but it may be a losing battle. At the very least, you’ll get more out of some of my planned future posts if you watch these videos first.

A 6-8 Week Roundup

I’ve been quite busy and all over the place these last couple of months. Here’s the roundup of the last 6-8 weeks at various venues. If you only care about Ribbonfarm, skip to the end.


First off, I booted-up my new technology blog at Forbes. Here’s the output for the first month. I am still sort of finding my feet with this general technology theme, so the pieces are a bit all over the place.

  1. Zappos and the Rise of Corporate Neo-Urbanism
  2. The Social Graph as Crude Oil (Go Ahead, Build that YASN!)
  3. Kubler-Ross and #OccupyWallStreet
  4. Public Computing and the Next Gang-of-Four
  5. We Are All Macs Now
  6. The Electric Leviathan

Information Week

Next, on my Information Week column, I’ve been writing a few pieces to sort of wrap up the first phase of my thinking (which has evolved over the last 2-3 years) on Enterprise 2.0 themes. I am planning to collect my IW columns from this year, along with some of my older posts on the E2.0 conference blog, into an ebook soon. But this Star Wars style trilogy that I posted over the last 6 weeks kinda sums up the big picture view I currently hold.

  1. Social Wars: A New Hope
  2. Social Wars: The Enterprise Strikes Back
  3. Social Wars: Return Of The Radicals

If you haven’t seen my IW stuff on Enterprise 2.0/social business (or weren’t aware that I was writing there), and the theme interests you, you may want to catch up with my dozen or so posts so far. I am sensing that the Enterprise 2.0/social business trend is shifting into a new gear, and I am trying to tie up my Phase I thoughts into a neat little package so I can sort of get it off my mind and think about Phase II.

Tempo Blog

On the Tempo blog, over the last couple of months, I’ve  had a series of loosely related pieces on mindfulness, time-management and productivity that I am really happy with. The plan to use the blog to beta-test ideas for a future edition of the book is going well. This stuff is going into the second edition of the book in some form (read in this order if you want to follow the train of thought):

  1. Daemons and the Mindful Learning Curve
  2. The Calculus of Grit: (this is actually an August ribbonfarm post, but seems to belong in this series)
  3. Bandwagon Timing verus Biding Your Time
  4. Forgivable Sloppiness: The Art of Epoch-Driven Time Management
  5. Thrust, Drag and the 10x Effect


And finally, here at home, I only had five “real” pieces in the last two months (not counting last week’s guest post and a couple of announcement posts), but they were biggies for me personally. I seem to be moving into a new phase on the home front. The impending end of the Gervais Principle series, which has sort of been the sine qua non of this blog for two years, has frankly gotten me into a soul-searching mode about where to go next.

  1. The Stream Map of the World
  2. The Gervais Principle V: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
  3. Ubiquity Illusions and the Chicken-Egg Problem
  4. The Milo Criterion
  5. Fixing the Game by Roger L. Martin

Hope that’s enough to keep you guys busy for a while. I can sense some significant steering in my writing direction(s) looming in November. Not entirely sure which way I’ll be turning.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. The Satan Force says

    For those of you who would like to have the episodes of “A Century of the Self” in a downloadable audio format, you can find it below

    Episode 1: Happiness Machines –
    Episode 2: The Engineering of Consent –
    Episode 3: There is a Policeman Inside All Our Head: He Must Be Destroyed -
    Episode 4: Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering –

    You will notice a difference between watching Curtis, and listening to Curtis, that is, you immediately notice that his premise and conclusions are quite excellent, but his arguments are awful, and betray a liberal paranoia that is masked by the moving image. This demonstrated in the 3 minute Youtube video below.

    It is a bit more obvious in his latest documentary series “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, which can be seen below:

    Synopsis: A series of films about how humans have been colonized by the machines they have built. Although we don’t realize it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. It claims that computers have failed to liberate us and instead have distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.

    A better source, I believe, for showing how society came under grip of irrational forces, used for very rational means is Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” written in 1985, but just as prescient today. Link to audiobook below

  2. Glubbdrubb says

    I don’t suppose you’ve watched the British comedy series “Absolute Power”? It’s a great perspective on modern PR.

  3. Tom Bushell says

    WRT to the end of the Gervais Principle – have you considered expanding that to a full length book?

    You’d probably want to reference other TV shows and movies as well (off the top of my head – Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, The Godfather, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Simpsons) .

    These all provide many examples of Sociopaths, Clueless, and Losers exhibiting Slightly Evil and pure evil behaviors.

    Could be a best seller – I know I’d buy it!

    • Am planning an ebook compilation with a couple of extra pieces, but not a true expansion into a proper book. That would take far more TV/Movie watching than I could manage, I think.

  4. Liked the Gang of 4 piece. Envato as economic meta-player? a very interesting company.

  5. Nial C. DeMena (NCD) says

    I’m a fan and actually got Virginia Tech to buy your book, which I’m reading. Your ideas are wild. For the most part, though, short form seems to best medium for you. I’m excited to see you in new projects.

    Caution: For me this is my debut post and I hope I’ve, since reading, meted out and met the intellectual level you strive for in your site in my writing in it. If not, just say so and I’ll quit it and stick to reading and recommending to friends alone (which I’m perfectly happy to do).

    I know you’ve done a piece on waste and I wanted to ask you if you’ve ever had a chance to check out the stats on China’s budding yet unofficial e-waste recycling industry and its underground corollary. I ask because as a formal-informal economy it represents an unfathomable amount of metric tons of waste per year and a substantial though increasingly problematic potential for profit. Current estimations have put China’s e-waste processing at 5.4 million tons annually by 2015. China is, as of my writing this post, the world’s biggest Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipement (WEEE) repository, collecting from the United States, Europe, South Korea, Japan, and parts of Brazil.

    The numbers are crazy. Most astounding though is the pervasiveness of the rural and migrant informal WEEE recycling networks in places like Guiyu (~20 million tons per annum) and Taizhou (~2.5 million tons per annum). They are doing what inchoate corporate-scale and formal e-waste recycling apparatuses fail to do because of a lack of coordination, systemic health risks in handling materials, the expensive infrastructure needs to set-up plants for such recycling, and more broadly, a lack of a better national, or, for that matter, global plan in dealing with the sheer escalating mass of leftover EOL electric and electronic materials. Instead, you have a massive informal market built around e-waste’s roughshod dismantling which China, I’m sure, believes to be risky yet extremely, mutually beneficial, a fact that explains its lack of regulation. It costs less than running a plant and is far more effective. The composite of men, women, and children alike that make-up the cheap and spontaneous labor force, on average treat hazardous materials without masks or proper equipment and make little more than $1.50 a day without the threats of complicated legal machinations and legislative policies, unions, or lawsuits, as well as providing a much needed function of disposal and removal. Like I said, crazy.

    Anyway, I’ve thought about this idea. Its completely up your ally due to the multidimensional aspect of the problem and the many distributed socioeconomic, material, legal and illegal, environmental, and political vectors that must be considered and coordinated in response to such pressing demand. The relative complexity along with the added benefit of having a governmental function outsourced naturally in the decentralized and legally-neuter informal economy has “case study” written all over it. Maybe you were aware? Or too busy? Dare I say disinterested?

    Although I come from a more literary background, I have technical interests and plan on pursuing them in terms of my training in critical theory, cultural studies, neo-colonialism, and biopolitics (the latter has the lion’s share of my attention). Mainly, I plan on entering the think-tank business out of grad school, or starting my own consulting firm at some point with these sorts of issues at heart. Also, I toyed with the idea of how the US could gear its own waste economy using the prison force and throwing its PR weight at the Chinese for not properly addressing their WEEE “problem.” One could make a buck at that if its done right with the correct levels of governmental subsidizing required of such a “green” start-up venture or national prison force program.

    I’d love to hear what you think, as well as ask you a question or two on moving from the philosophic-theoretical to the practical/technical/specific content of applied knowledge, which you seem to have much varied experience in.

    Speaking of waste, have you ever read Thomas Pynchon’s novels. He’s on the level. I bring it up because he’s a former engineer, famously shy and prolific writer, and has books that concern themselves with issue like planned obsolescence–see Byron the Lightbulb from Gravity’s Rainbow–and waste–see W-A-S-T-E from The Crying of Lot 49.

    As long as my eyeballs are working, I’ll continue to be a fan. I tried giving you the goods so to speak on the WEEE recycling industry in China that were interesting and provocative enough to merit a written response, which I do hope to get (though I would never expect it of you). Get back to me at your leisure, or, if your of the I don’t have time to respond camp, not at all.

    One last thing: Have you read any of the Situationist works like Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord? Cool stuff. Cities as super-organisms is another developing hypothesis and unifying principle of mine, though much less well articulated (at least as far as the organization of my thoughts are concerned).

    Keep up the work and stay shandy, NCD.

    PS. Shandy is not a typo, it’s a beer mixed with another non-alcoholic beverage, which given your youth and mine and the mixologist approach to phenomena economic, social or otherwise you take up on this site would be a welcome sign off. P.

    • Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to absorb.

      I think I saw something on waste in China a while back. The garbage documentary on CNBC I think. I am afraid I am too much of an armchair guy to go too deeply into it on my own, so I am sort of waiting for a good overview book on the current state of China overall to come out, before I start thinking about that corner of the world. The language barrier+communism make it hard to really think about China stuff easily.

  6. Excellent list – I’d add:

    Another BBC doc – The Power of Nightmares
    concerning the parallel development of modern Islamic radicalism and Neo-conservatism (on youtube)

    A Chris Smith doc – Collapse
    Crazy never sounded that sane to me….. (all that is on youtube is the trailer – the full version is only available via some premium service like itunes or netflix)

    And finally another youtube post – a math, well arithmetic lecture by Albert Bartlett entitled ‘the most important video you’ll ever see’ and while that is quite the claim…. it may just be that.

  7. Hello Venkat,

    Intertesting material – but why don’t you mention any women thinkers or activists in this post?
    I’ve watched most of these and they strike me as very male dominated.