On Criticism and The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness

Leah Reich’s post “The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness” summarizes the 2013 XOXO festival,recently held in Portland. The whole post is worth reading, but these paragraphs on the value of criticism were particularly good:

Then one day, someone came in and told me my photo wasn’t very good. They weren’t particularly nice about it, and it stung. I let the comment sit there, and someone else – friends with the first person – said something similar, but in a more specific way. Then a third person, someone I admired so deeply it still makes my guts ache, told me what I was doing was okay but that it was about time I pushed myself. And I realized something crucial:

They knew I could be better. They believed in me. They wanted to see me get there.

That ache in my gut is going to be familiar to all of you. It’s not the ache that’s desperate for likes or hearts or little stars. It’s the ache that wants someone to help you and to approve of what you’ve done because their work and their approval mean something to you. Because a “yeah, that’s it, that’s pretty good, that’s the right direction” or even a “this is getting there, but think about why your composition isn’t working over here” feels like it’s been earned.

So as it turns out, The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness is where people can be excited about stuff. And here’s a secret: Sometimes being excited about something means not always being positive.

This is a smart take:

Criticism is not negativity. Criticism is not saying you’re bad. Criticism is – it should be – a way of saying: I think you’re good. I know you can do better. I think you can figure out a way how.


The Most Ruthless Takedown of the TED Ecosystem

Evgeny Morozov has a scathing piece in The New Republic claiming that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister. His takedown is ruthless, and begins with a recent book published by TED:

Khanna’s contempt for democracy and human rights aside, he is simply an intellectual impostor, emitting such lethal doses of banalities, inanities, and generalizations that his books ought to carry advisory notices. Take this precious piece of advice from his previous book—the modestly titledHow to Run the World—which is quite representative of his work: “The world needs very few if any new global organizations. What it needs is far more fresh combinations of existing actors whocoordinate better with one another.” How this A-list networking would stop climate change, cyber-crime, or trade in exotic animals is never specified. Khanna does not really care about the details of policy. He is a manufacturer of abstract, meaningless slogans. He is, indeed, the most talented bullshit artist of his generation.

Morozov is a brilliant tactician with words, and dishes out paragraph after paragraph like the following:

As is typical of today’s anxiety-peddling futurology, the Khannas’ favorite word is “increasingly,” which is their way of saying that our unstable world is always changing and that only advanced thinkers such as themselves can guide us through this turbulence. In Hybrid Reality, everything is increasingly something else: gadgets are increasingly miraculous, technology is increasingly making its way into the human body, quiet moments are increasingly rare. This is a world in which pundits are increasingly using the word “increasingly” whenever they feel too lazy to look up the actual statistics, which, in the Khannas’ case, increasingly means all the time.

The main argument against TED made by Morozov:

Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering—a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED—or, to use their argot, in the TED “ecosystem”—books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books—and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void. Richard Dawkins, the father of memetics, should be very proud. Perhaps he can explain how “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.”

I don’t agree with a lot of Morozov writes, but he makes some great points about “techno babble” and how we can be easily swayed by some ideas that are fairly obvious.