Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

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Original article found here.

Global marketing execs agree — America’s image is in the toilet. The cure? One presidential candidate has what it takes, they say, to save Brand USA.

By Jeff Yang.

There’s no way to put this delicately, so I won’t: America’s global image is in the crapper. Last year, the BBC World Service conducted a poll of over 26,000 individuals in the world’s 25 largest countries and found that more than 52 percent thought the U.S. had a “mostly negative” influence on the world. Fifty-three percent of respondents to a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs felt America could “not be trusted.”

Which means that, on top of everything else it represents, the current presidential election is something like an ad agency review — a chance to put a set of potential stewards for “Brand America” through their paces, to see the creative and strategic directions in which they’d take our product.

What’s at stake is more than just popularity. As Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the globe’s second-largest ad agency, DDB Worldwide, notes, “How we’re perceived in the world has profound implications. We rely on human intelligence to alert us to threats: We need friends willing to whisper in our ear that someone’s planning to blow up jetliners … Economically, the Commerce Department estimated that we’ve lost over $100 billion in tourism revenues since 2001. For every share point we lose in that sector, you’re talking about $12.3 billion and 150,000 jobs, gone! The bottom line is that we need a world that likes America.”


Given the beating our image has taken during the last eight years, getting back to “like” is an uphill climb — but not an impossible one. Over the past six months, I’ve seen this process firsthand, as part of a team of researchers exploring the tarnishing of America’s “brand” in the global marketplace. The word from our network of immersed observers in 14 countries: Even as American politics and policies have become a lightning rod for global anger, America’s core underlying values retain their appeal. The problem is that, in the eyes of millions of people around the world, we’ve simply stopped living up to them.

“The virulent strain of anti-Americanism we’re seeing now can be ascribed directly to the fact that we’ve reneged on our promise to the world,” says Dick Martin, former executive vice president of public relations for AT&T, and author of the book “Rebuilding Brand America.” “That’s why it’s ultimately a branding problem. At its root, a brand is a promise. KFC is a brand that promises finger-lickin’-good chicken; America is a brand that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But unlike KFC, we’re not delivering.”

“Brand America needs a relaunch,” says Reinhard. “And this year, this election, is the best opportunity we’re going to get.”

Convention holds that presidents need at least 100 days to find their footing, establish their policies, and shift the nation out of the previous administration’s inertia. But observers point out that because this cycle’s presidential contenders are the most cleanly packaged and clearly differentiated since Kennedy and Nixon, America’s makeover will begin even before inauguration. As soon as a winner is announced on Nov. 4, 2008, he or she will, for all intents and purposes, be Brand America.

So which of the candidates has a brand that best addresses the perceived deficits in our country brand?

Is it Brand Clinton, the name you can trust; familiar, experienced and rich with the mmm-mmm-good aroma of America’s last big boom? Or Brand Huckabee, whose folks ‘n’ faith message promises down-to-earth values combined with hands-to-heaven purity? Is it Brand McCain, tough enough to get it done, an off-road vehicle unafraid of both traffic and muck. Or, perhaps, Brand Obama — the think-different, just-do-it candidate who combines all-in-one packaging with big, streamlined ideas?

“Let’s look at what the world appreciates about us: Our youthful enthusiasm, our optimism, our diversity,” says DDB’s Reinhard. “And then, our negatives, which are very consistent across the world: No. 1, the perception that we are exploitative — we take what we want, and don’t give back in fair measure. Two, that we’re corrupt — we promote values that are not in concert with the social mores or religions of others. And three, that we’re arrogant: We’re self-absorbed, we’re loud, we’re rude.” To fix our nation brand, Reinhard suggests we need to steal a page from Johnny Mercer: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

Although his campaign has largely been written off as quixotic, Brand Huckabee has some unexpected merits, notably a certain self-deprecating humility that’s missing from the other candidates’ personas. “I was in Frankfurt a few weeks ago, at a panel about the U.S. elections hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce, and that day, the International Herald Tribune had run an article about Huckabee’s sense of humor, and about how it’s become such a part of his brand,” says Reinhard. “And even the Germans were acknowledging, when it comes to personal style, you have to give him full marks.”

Branding consultant Patricia Martin, author of “Renaissance Generation: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer,” agrees: “Huckabee is what I’d call a ‘compassion brand,'” she says. “He’s a man of the people. He laughs, and people laugh along. He makes people feel comfortable.” (On the other hand, notes Dick Martin, “Huckabee’s religious demeanor gives the world pause; it’s hard to underestimate the degree to which people outside of the U.S. are confused by our approach to religion. It bewilders people that more people believe in the Virgin Birth in the U.S. than in the theory of evolution.”)

The ability to soften the die-cast lines of pre-scripted identity, to engage with humor and spontaneity rather than reason and rhetoric, have only belatedly become a part of Brand Clinton — and, note commentators, perhaps too late and too halfheartedly to save her campaign. “Hillary built herself into an ‘anxiety brand,’ a brand that depends on uncertainty or fear to succeed; the whole appeal of familiarity and experience is rooted in this notion that the unknown is frightening,” says Patricia Martin. “And when it was clear that that wasn’t working, she was able to get some traction by exposing her emotions — by laying out a little compassion. But her brand was out there so early and already established so solidly that it hasn’t been enough to right the ship.”

And while Clinton’s aura of competence and professionalism (not to mention the global popularity of her husband) would smooth out some of the rough, clumsy edges of America’s current global image, her brand would inevitably feel more like a retread than the reinvention the world is hoping for. “Even the fact that Hillary is a woman isn’t going to be seen as a significant breakthrough,” says Harvard Business School professor John Quelch, author of “Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy. “Many countries have already elected and been led by women, so this is simply America playing catch-up rather than a statement of change in the cultural mind-set. There’s also that lurking suspicion overseas that, had she not married as she had, she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has.”

Brand McCain is even more squarely planted in the “anxiety brand” space than Clinton: His straight-talking, muscular-contrarian persona (not to mention his shoot-from-the-lip rhetoric about a “hundred-year occupation” of Iraq) are designed to make him look strong, firm and unyielding in the face of challenge. The problem is that from abroad, “unyielding” looks a whole lot like “arrogant,” while “maverick” translates into “unilateralist,” both of which are fundamental sore points in the way America has presented itself to the world over the past eight years.

Being anointed Brand Bush’s heir via endorsements from both H.W. and W. only exacerbates global fears that McCain is the same-old, same-old candidate — accent on the “old.” “For McCain, age is a brand attribute he can’t control,” says Mark Newsome, senior vice president and CMO of marketing agency Chernoff Newman. “He’s in his 70s, and as much as that’s an asset as far as experience and wisdom is concerned, he can’t help being seen as the kind of status-quo patriarch that just isn’t going to play in 2008 like it did eight or 10 years ago — especially if he’s up against a 46-year-old opponent.”

Which brings us to the candidate that marketers universally agreed has the secret sauce that Brand America needs to regain its appeal.

“From Day One, Obama was talking about how we have to think outside of the Beltway box — how we need to enact positive change in a fresh way,” says Siegel + Gale’s Alan Siegel. “His brand is about uplift, it’s about humanity; he uses the pronoun ‘we’ so naturally. People knock him for style over substance, but the truth is that he just has a tremendous ability to cut through the noise. He’s distilled his brand proposition into a single theme, ‘authentic change,’ and it has resonated with people both here and abroad.”

While change — the notion of a break with the past — is central to Obama’s brand essence, the other values he incorporates are no less important. “Obama represents a lot of what America stands for, at its best: Diversity, opportunity, community,” says Dick Martin. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when asked about his qualifications, he talks about being a community organizer; he’s emphasizing that his experience is in bringing people together. I think, strictly from the point of view of changing attitudes towards America around the world, electing him is the most powerful thing we could do. He’s the embodiment of the American dream. Having him as president would say to the rest of the world that America has renewed its promise.”

There’s another factor that Obama has in his favor, which no other candidate this cycle — or, for that matter, in American history — can lay claim to, and it might be summed up as “trade dress.” His name, his appearance, his parentage: All of these are factors that have an immediate, visceral impact, even to those who know nothing else about him. Pundit Andrew Sullivan, guesting on “The Colbert Report,” summed it up as follows: “Just show the face of Barack Obama on television to some teenager in Lahore, Pakistan, who has a vision of America that’s been determined by the Bush-Cheney years, and suddenly, more than any words, his opinion and views of this country will change.”

For Obama, this advantage is almost unassailable. Short of announcing Tiger Woods as a running mate, none of his rivals has a way to force a recalibration of America’s image through peripheral attributes alone. It’s a big reason why he’s captivated global attention, to an extent that Americans might not even be aware. Indeed, the very things that snipers from the right have used to cast doubt on Obama’s red-white-and-blue propers — his schoolboy years in Indonesia, his refusal to engage in acts of symbolic patriotism, his stated willingness to sit down and engage with enemy world leaders, even the Drudge-distributed image of Obama in native Somali garb — these are the things that have the world trembling with anticipation over an Obama victory in November.

“I was just in Doha, Qatar, for the Brookings Institution’s annual U.S.- Islamic World Forum, and one of the moderators asked the non-Americans in the audience, ‘If you could vote for one of the U.S. presidential candidates, who would you vote for?'” says Keith Reinhard. “The number of hands that shot up for Barack Obama far outnumbered those for anyone else. So in that part of the world, at least, there’s no question at all.”

And in other parts of the world as well. “In Germany, they’re fascinated with him, they call him ‘Der schwarze Kennedy,’ the ‘black Kennedy,'” says Dick Martin. “They feel he has the same aura about him.” In fact, just a few weeks ago, Germany’s leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel ran a cover feature on Obama, illustrated by a paired set of images — Barack on the left, JFK on the right — and asking whether America will “finally have the chance to be loved again.” The issue’s cover line raised the stakes to a new level: It read, simply, “The Messiah Factor.”

That’s because, in Europe, and in Asia, Latin America and Africa as well, the perception is that an Obama presidency represents the potential for catharsis after nearly a decade of frustration with the U.S. “Our brand has been hammered recently, but beneath the anger, there’s this underlying hope among people around the world that we can do better,” says Patricia Martin. “And we can. We reinvent ourselves. It’s what we’re known for: We’ve had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra. I think that’s why you have people in every country eating up every little turn in this election’s story. This election, the whole world is watching.”

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Original article appears in salon.com, by Heather Havrilesky

Productivity is overrated. When I think of the vast sea of to-do lists I’ve written over the past 20 years, thousands of little slips of paper with items crossed off and added and circled and rewritten on new lists, I’m struck by the utter futility of this incessant compulsion to accomplish stuff.

Surely the gods find such a relentless pursuit of trivial goals utterly pathetic! As they gaze down at us from their leisurely perches in the clouds, they must laugh heartily, to see how we scamper to and fro, telling ourselves that we’re almost done. But we’re never done! There’s always more laundry, more dishes, more deadlines, more errands, more phone calls, more e-mails, more projects, more, more, more!

Why awake each morning with a to-do list? When we’re old and gray, will we measure our lives in laundry, errands and e-mails? It’s time we finally emancipated ourselves from the oppressive, ever-looming burden of productivity. Life is too short to waste time inventing even more supposedly important, time-sensitive tasks. Let’s float free of goal-oriented living and drift aimlessly through the world like idle aristocrats or retirees or stray dogs! Let’s spend our time wandering and sniffing around and relaxing in the sunshine and sipping coffee and reading the paper and musing on the meaning of it all!

But then, how will you escape the tidal wave of idiotic, pointless tasks that’s sure to drag you under after just a few idle days? If only you were going through some kind of a midlife crisis or struggling with some sort of substance abuse problem, you’d have a solid excuse for dropping out completely …

It’s no wonder the inhabitants of “Big Brother” (9 p.m. EDT Tuesdays, 8 p.m. EDT Wednesdays and Sundays on CBS) always seem like such a fragile lot. Unable to conjure the proper degree of enthusiasm for drinking or drugs or a nervous breakdown, they opted for an equally tumultuous and undignified exit from their everyday lives: the reality show. But what better excuse for avoiding your responsibilities in life than by literally being imprisoned in a well-lit romper room with other aimless, soul-searching drifters?

“Big Brother” offers a rare opportunity to observe human beings in a completely idle state. But do the inhabitants seem relaxed and happy, like retirees or stray dogs? Sadly, no — they’re more like depressed zoo animals. But unlike captive polar bears, which pace the same steps over and over, quietly going insane over the years, captive human beings display their deteriorating mental health in much more colorful and entertaining ways. Say what you will about “Big Brother” in general, but this season has featured, hands down, the most demented, manic, talkative, paranoid, melodramatic crop of prisoners in the history of the show.

Splitting the group into teams of two and telling them they’d been paired with their soul mates was a stroke of genius. Partners Chelsia and James fell in lust and made out around the clock. Natalie grew infatuated with her partner, Matt, and became convinced that he adored her, too — he just happened to show it by avoiding her and insulting her constantly. And partners Sheila and Adam hated each other more than they would’ve otherwise, considering each other far too ugly and inferior to constitute a proper match. But whether bonded by love or mutual hatred, the couples became close out of necessity, coming up with joint strategies, working together during challenges, sleeping in the same beds, and insulting the other houseguests ruthlessly in the privacy of the Head of Household room.

Of course, the second everyone got comfortable, it was time to tear the couples asunder, forcing each player to compete individually. The house went from being a bustling beehive of strategizing, alliance forming and shit talking to an asylum filled with desperate, chattering lunatics. While in past seasons, the captives of the “Big Brother” house would sit around talking about nothing, and once every three or four days someone would trip on something or get into a bickering match and that footage would make it onto the show, this season, I pity the editors who have to decide what footage to include.

If you’ve checked in with the live footage of the house featured on “Big Brother After Dark” (12 a.m.-3 a.m. EDT on Showtime 2), you’ll see that every single night, the captives stay up late, strategizing and talking shit. Joshua calls Allison sad and pathetic. Matt makes a move on Sharon. Matt and Sharon confide in other players that they only kissed each other for strategic reasons. Natalie follows Matt around. James and Chelsia make out. James suggests Chelsia for eviction … The insanity goes on and on and on, with brand-new alliances and enemies forming every few milliseconds. This season, the Big Brotherians are willing to strategize with anyone, at any time, whether that person is on their side or not.

Take last week: Josh and James resolve to persuade Ryan to vote out his buddy, Matt. Natalie, who’s ostensibly in agreement, turns around and tells her darling Matt. Matt tells Ryan. Ryan agrees not to put Matt up, but tells Josh, James and the others that he’ll put Matt up anyway. Ryan makes a secret deal with Josh. Ryan changes his mind, and puts James up. James is voted out 5-1, but then, when the housemates have to decide between bringing back James or another unknown houseguest who’s already been voted out, they bring back James. James wins Head of Household and then goes on the warpath, since he feels betrayed by everyone but his lusty former partner, Chelsia, and proclaims the rest of the house total idiots for voting him back in. James promises Natalie he won’t put Matt on the block, so he puts Ryan and Sheila up for eviction, then wins the power of veto (so he can take someone off the block), changes his mind, takes Sheila off and puts Matt on the block after all. Matt’s voted out, leaving Natalie heartbroken and hungry for vengeance.

In the old days, there’d be three or four big power shifts per season. This season, the power in the house shifts constantly — it never stops shifting. You can tune in for an episode and see one thing, then switch over to “After Dark” and see a completely different plan emerging. No one has a concrete plan. Everyone is all over the map, and nothing you hear anyone say matters one damn, because they’ll turn around and say the exact opposite thing a few hours later.

Which makes this show even more of a colossal waste of time than it usually is — which is exactly why we list-makers love it with a burning passion. Three nights a week, we sit and waste a full hour on this circular, gossipy, pointless chatter. It’s the least productive, emptiest, most foolish thing we could possibly spend our time doing, and as such it constitutes one small taste of emancipation from the burden of productivity.

Pup is up
For those looking for something similarly relaxing to watch, but who can’t quite stomach the meatheads and acrid tartlets of reality television, might I recommend another group of very idle beings, albeit ones with far more personality and flair than the “Big Brother” houseguests?

Welcome to the Sleeping Dog Channel, an online video site by the geniuses at World of Wonder productions. The site shows nothing but dogs sleeping, which makes it a little less interesting than, say, “Dancing With the Stars” and a little more interesting than “CSI: Miami.”

What is it about watching dogs sleep that’s so relaxing? Whether it’s the heavy-lidded blinking of Chloe or the worried brow and paw licking of Stella, the Sleeping Dog Channel offers so many hours of commercial-free enjoyment that it’s sure to make its creators rich, I tell you, rich as kings!

Now if only they could recast “Paradise Hotel 2” with rescue dogs, the show would be much improved: “Residents of Paradise, there’s a twist! Instead of bringing a new man to Paradise this week, we’re bringing a male collie mix, a female Great Dane-lab mix and a litter of Jack Russells! Will you continue to get drunk and make out with your current roommate, or would you rather drink to excess, then frolic with a room full of high-energy puppies, and send your current roommate packing?”

The harried leisure class
The irony, of course, is that truly idle human beings are, like caged animals, more neurotic and anxious than the rest of us. Look no further than “The Real Housewives of New York City” (11 p.m. Tuesdays on Bravo) for proof. Despite a lot of big talk about their careers, these high-strung New Yorkers don’t appear to have a lot to occupy their time, outside of beauty treatments, shopping and socializing. Oh, but don’t think for a second that you can’t create a world of stress and pressure from these seemingly relaxing pursuits! These desperate housewives make play look like serious work.

Of course, the real draw of this show is to marvel at the hopeless tackiness of people who claim to be elite. The most objectionable of the lot may be Alex, who loves to brag about how perfect her life is and how superior her taste is. She doesn’t go to the Hamptons in August like so many wealthy New Yorkers; she goes to St. Barth instead. Why? “For a vacation, I want to relax. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder to see if there’s somebody I need to impress sitting at the next table.” My, how down to earth of you!

Naturally the only “Real Housewife” who isn’t seriously cheesy, LuAnn, is a major snob. She’s married to a man whose actual name is Count Alexandre, and her daughter Victoria, who’s 12, shows horses and has been riding since she was 5. When loudmouthed fellow “Real Housewife” Ramona shows up at the Hampton Classic horse show where Victoria is riding, LuAnn sniffs at how out of place Ramona looks in her big hat and her dress, saying, “I think she thought it was like the big tent day, where you get all dolled up and it’s all about the hat and the dress? This day was all about the show, and the jumping.” Oh yes, it’s so very easy to break some crucial rule in the hallowed, horsey Hamptons!

Meanwhile, poor Ramona nervously grips her photocopied schedule of the day’s events and fires questions at LuAnn like she’s the new girl at school, while LuAnn snipes to a friend, “She keeps asking me all these questions about the show and I’m going, I don’t know, I’m watching.”

But the pettiness has only just begun! Later “Real Housewife” Jill feels hurt that Ramona didn’t invite her to a cooking party, and seeks revenge — how else? — by challenging her to a doubles match at tennis. LuAnn, who’s tall and athletic, is Jill’s partner (and they’re actually friends). After her husband, Mario, shouts several instructions from the sidelines, Ramona loses her cool and tells him to keep quiet. For WASP-y LuAnn, the whole display is lamentable.

LuAnn: I was in shock! She told him to shut up. She told him to leave! I was like, oh my God, if I ever spoke to the Count like that he would be out of town, permanently!

Yes, this woman, who refers to her husband as the Count, feels comfortable casting judgment on others. Now I can’t get that counting vampire from “Sesame Street” out of my head. One absurdly snotty remark! Two absurdly snotty remarks! Muhaha!

But LuAnn and her equally judgmental fellow “Real Housewife” Bethenny give the NYC version of this show what the Orange County version so sorely lacked: a voice of reason, however nasty and condescending that voice happens to be. Those bad, cheesy women in Orange County would parade around in ass pants with their fake jugs on display, throwing back margaritas and flirting with men 20 years younger than they were, and while you had to admire their pluck and sass, some small part of your brain couldn’t help screaming, “Why doesn’t someone tell these women to keep their voices down?”

Unlike the Orange County “Real Housewives” who looked like they’d been surgically transformed into creepy old Barbie dolls, LuAnn and Bethenny wear the life of leisure rather well, like they spend most of their time playing tennis and brushing stray dust off the bed linens. They’re fit, they’re smart, they have good taste. In a teaser for next week’s show, Bethenny even observes that Alex “overcompensates for insecurity by being pretentious.”

Needless to say, this is totally unacceptable. We aren’t supposed to respect or envy the idle rich; we’re supposed to pity them! Luckily, though, next week Bethenny’s boyfriend gets commitment-phobic and the Countess’s children get lice. Yes, the good Lord (or at least the executive producer) is on our side after all!

Drawing conclusions
The lives of the idle force us to ask ourselves a difficult question: If we freed ourselves from the puerile persistence of productivity, would we find happiness? Or would living without lists make us listless? Would we find ourselves quick to temper without little tasks to ground us? Would idleness only make us more aggressive, or tackier, or snobbier? Maybe we should feel grateful to those endless to-do lists, for keeping us safe from the neurotic tics and existential crises of the leisure class!

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An interesting article on the Internet, blogging and social networks and children’s attitude towards them.

Nothing, actually. Aside from our panic that the Internet is melting their brains. By Amy Goldwasser.

March 14, 2008 | The other week was only the latest takedown of what has become a fashionable segment of the population to bash: the American teenager. A phone (land line!) survey of 1,200 17-year-olds, conducted by the research organization Common Core and released Feb. 26, found our young people to be living in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature.

This furthered the report that the National Endowment for the Arts came out with at the end of 2007, lamenting “the diminished role of voluntary reading in American life,” particularly among 13-to-17-year-olds, and Doris Lessing’s condemnation, in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature, of “a fragmenting culture” in which “young men and women … have read nothing, knowing only some specialty or other, for instance, computers.”

Kids today — we’re telling you! — don’t read, don’t write, don’t care about anything farther in front of them than their iPods. The Internet, according to 88-year-old Lessing (whose specialty is sturdy typewriters, or perhaps pens), has “seduced a whole generation into its inanities.”

Or is it the older generation that the Internet has seduced — into the inanities of leveling charges based on fear, ignorance and old-media, multiple-choice testing? So much so that we can’t see that the Internet is only a means of communication, and one that has created a generation, perhaps the first, of writers, activists, storytellers? When the world worked in hard copy, no parent or teacher ever begrudged teenagers who disappeared into their rooms to write letters to friends — or a movie review, or an editorial for the school paper on the first president they’ll vote for. Even 15-year-old boys are sharing some part of their feelings with someone out there.

We’re talking about 33 million Americans who are fluent in texting, e-mailing, blogging, IM’ing and constantly amending their profiles on social network sites — which, on average, 30 of their friends will visit every day, hanging out and writing for 20 minutes or so each. They’re connected, they’re collaborative, they’re used to writing about themselves. In fact, they choose to write about themselves, on their own time, rather than its being a forced labor when a paper’s due in school. Regularly, often late at night, they’re generating a body of intimate written work. They appreciate the value of a good story and the power of a speech that moves: Ninety-seven percent of the teenagers in the Common Core survey connected “I have a dream” with its speaker — they can watch Dr. King deliver it on demand — and eight in 10 knew what “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about.

This is, of course, the kind of knowledge we should be encouraging. The Internet has turned teenagers into honest documentarians of their own lives — reporters embedded in their homes, their schools, their own heads.

But this is also why it’s dangerous, why we can’t seem to recognize that it’s just a medium. We’re afraid. Our kids know things we don’t. They drove the presidential debates onto YouTube and very well may determine the outcome of this election. They’re texting at the dinner table and responsible for pretty much every enduring consumer cultural phenomenon: iPod, iTunes, iPhone; Harry Potter, “High School Musical”; large hot drinks with gingerbread flavoring. They can sell ads on their social network pages, and they essentially made MySpace worth $580 million and “Juno” an Oscar winner.

Besides, we’re tired of having to ask them every time we need to find Season 2 of “Heroes,” calculate a carbon footprint or upload photos to Facebook (now that we’re allowed on).

Plus, they’re blogging about us.

So we’ve made the Internet one more thing unknowable about the American teenager, when, really, it’s one of the few revelations. We conduct these surveys and overgeneralize — labeling like the mean girls, driven by the same jealousy and insecurity.

Common Core drew its multiple-choice questions for teens from a test administered by the federal government in 1986. Twenty-plus years ago, high school students didn’t have the Internet to store their trivia. Now they know that the specific dates and what-was-that-prince’s-name will always be there; they can free their brains to go a little deeper into the concepts instead of the copyrights, step back and consider what Scout and Atticus were really fighting for. To criticize teenagers’ author-to-book title matching on the spot, over the phone, is similar to cold-calling over-40s and claiming their long-division skills or date of “Jaws” recall is rusty. This is what we all rely on the Internet for.

That’s not to say some of the survey findings aren’t disturbing. It’s crushing to hear that one in four teens could not identify Adolf Hitler’s role in world history, for instance. But it’s not because teenagers were online that they missed this. Had a parent introduced 20 minutes of researching the Holocaust to one month of their teen’s Internet life, or a teacher assigned “The Diary of Anne Frank” (arguably a 13-year-old girl’s blog) — if we worked with, rather than against, the way this generation voluntarily takes in information — we might not be able to pick up the phone and expose tragic pockets of ignorance.

The average teen chooses to spend an average of 16.7 hours a week reading and writing online. Yet the NEA report did not consider this to be “voluntary” reading and writing. Its findings also concluded that “literary reading declined significantly in a period of rising Internet use.” The corollary is weak — this has as well been a period of rising franchises of frozen yogurt that doesn’t taste like frozen yogurt, of global warming, of declining rates of pregnancy and illicit drug use among teenagers, and of girls sweeping the country’s most prestigious high school science competition for the first time.

Teenagers today read and write for fun; it’s part of their social lives. We need to start celebrating this unprecedented surge, incorporating it as an educational tool instead of meeting it with punishing pop quizzes and suspicion.

We need to start trusting our kids to communicate as they will online — even when that comes with the risk that they’ll spill the family secrets or campaign for a candidate who’s not ours.

Once we stop regarding the Internet as a villain, stop presenting it as the enemy of history and literature and worldly knowledge, then our teenagers have the potential to become the next great voices of America. One of them, 70 years from now, might even get up there to accept the very award Lessing did — and thank the Internet for making him or her a writer and a thinker.

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What does it take to produce a world-changing breakthrough? Humans try again and again to arrive at a formula. These days, the X-Prize Foundation sponsors competitions in areas such as space travel and genomics, with a mission, it says, “to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” As far back as 1714, meanwhile, the British government pursued this same so-called “market approach” to sparking innovation, offering a king’s ransom, £20,000, to solve the seemingly intractable longitude problem. Sailors could not accurately determine their longitude at sea, limiting exploration and resulting in deadly shipwrecks.

Part of the problem with the market approach, though, is that humans aren’t always imaginative enough to know what we need. Eighteenth-century British leaders knew they needed to figure out longitude. But the vast majority of discoveries are at least semi-accidental.

Given the serendipity behind so much innovation, it may seem like folly to predict who will change the world–but we’re doing it anyway, if for no other reason than to spark creative discussion. We’ve looked far and wide to come up with our 10 revolutionaries. They’re young thinkers and scientists whom you’ve probably never heard of, doing work that is radically new and potentially world-changing. Together, they might transform medicine and computing, pollution and poverty, and our understandings of the brain and the cosmos–in short, they really could change the world.

While researching these innovators, we didn’t stumble upon a magic formula for producing breakthroughs. But we did get a good idea of where to look for innovation–and a good idea of just how many methods of fostering it have been tried.


Everyone agrees that we need new ways to meet the energy demands of the future, but there’s little consensus on how to do it. Nuclear fission? Cleaner coal? Bio-diesel? Bruce is one of a small handful of researchers suggesting an entirely different road. Nature has its own incredibly efficient way of producing power from the sun–photosynthesis–so why not put it to work? “Essentially, you grow a power plant in a field or in a fermenter,” says Bruce.


No, we aren’t quite to the point of “beam me up, Scottie,” but last October, Cirac teleported stuff in his lab. The “stuff” in question was information (more technically, a “quantum state”), and Cirac managed to instantly transfer it across a distance of half a meter without it touching anything in between.


While politicians tend to espouse solutions like “more aid” or “more trade,” entrenched poverty is a great lingering economic mystery. Duflo designs studies to figure out which kind of aid projects work, and which don’t. She was among the first development economists to evaluate aid projects using randomized trials, long the gold standard in scientific testing.


Eggan is leading the way to a world where stem cells–which have tremendous medical promise because of their potential to replace any damaged cell in the body–could be made without destroying embryos. Eggan is also becoming one of science’s more outspoken voices, defending the necessity of pursuing embryonic cell research through all available means as a way of understanding scourges like diabetes and Lou Gehrig’s disease.


When you buy shares in a company, you get to vote on corporate decisions. Likewise, when you invest in Hanson’s movie-making project, you get a say in the script, the casting, the cinematography, the filming and the editing. He believes not only that it’s a viable new business model, but that high-quality cinema will result — and he’s showing early signs of success.


Last year the borough of Tamaqua, Pa., passed an unprecedented law giving ecosystems legal rights of their own. Yes, you read that right. The trees, rivers, mountains and all the little critters that live in them have rights just like people. Linzey drafted the law, and is working on passing more ordinances around the country. His efforts fly in the face of thousands of years of Western legal precedent that treats nature strictly as property.


A scientist asks you to recall a memory, gives you a pill and alters your recollection. It sounds like a scene from the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the sci-fi romance in which ex-lovers have their memories of one another erased. But it’s exactly what Nader is doing with folks who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (rape survivors, war veterans and the like). The method does not aim to actually erase bad memories, but it can significantly reduce the severe pain of traumatic memories. His work could revolutionize how doctors treat epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder and even drug addiction.


If the laws of physics as we know them are correct, the vast majority of the universe–some 96% of it–consists of invisible, mysterious stuff known as “dark energy” and “dark matter.” Tegmark’s ambition is nothing less than to map and measure the entire universe, including these “dark” bits.


Science fiction is rife with intelligent, self-aware computers, from the benevolent “Mike” of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to the murderous HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But before we can actually design and build super-smart machines like those in our books and movies, we need to better understand the nature of human intelligence. That’s where Tenenbaum comes in. He’s using a combination of mathematical modeling, computer simulation and behavioral experiments to explain how people learn new things.


“We program cells like robots,” says Voigt. He’s at the forefront of a group of young researchers working to deliver on the profound promise of genetic engineering: Rebuilding living organisms to fight disease, make bio-fuels and solve industrial problems. To do this, Voigt works hard to understand what “commands” are programmed on the DNA of simple organisms like the E. coli bacteria. Then he changes the commands so the organism does his bidding.

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