Month: March 2014

entrepreneurs can change the world

No, really.

I have always been skeptical of the reductive form of TED, which needs no introduction. Usually under 20 minutes, ‘the expert’ breaks down a complicated concept in an entertaining and engaging way. I am as skeptical of TED as I am of Wikipedia, which, while often being a good starting point, isn’t the source to which one should refer when trying to construct an argument. In this way, TED too is a starting point. More than this, I find TED useful for understanding the ways in which information becomes product and how popularity drives its consumption. For example, while browsing TED talks on technology this one below interestingly appeared:


This talk, titled “Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs,” was delivered by Cameron Herold who is making a living as a ‘Business Coach.’ I found his talk to be exemplary of neoliberal discourse, in which  the individual is exalted as a driver of the economy. The whole talk was seeping with irony and, at times, lunacy. I wouldn’t be so concerned were it not for the 1,119,580 views it received, signalling the extent to which our desires have been captured by capital.  What do I mean by this and why is it important to my research?

Herold opens with “I loved money” “I loved business.” Indeed, it is this motivation that was nurtured by his father, who he said groomed him to run a business “rather than waiting for government handouts.” Groom, in fact, was the refrain in this talk. Who is doing this grooming and to what ends? This is what interests me as I look at online education, in which students are groomed to perform the bureaucrat-student. In fact, I would surmise that Herold himself would agree with me, except that he would accuse schools not for training students to critique the systems in which they are embedded, but rather for failing to nurture entrepreneurial traits such as tenacity, leadership, networking, sales, attainment, and boot strapping. Herold would also indite schools for failing to teach them to want to make money, without questioning the symbolic investments in its production; to ask questions, without questioning the system in which ‘business’ is embedded; to lead others, without distinguishing between leadership and exploitation; to be creative, so long as it’s not disrupting flows of capital; and to see solutions, whose limits are the ends of capital. The black death to which consumption will lead us. Until we consume the earth; until we consume ourselves.

He concludes with a video aimed at promising entrepreneurs: one part reads “HELP HEAL THE ECONOMY, MAKE A DIFFERENCE.” This is dangerous discourse. It’s dangerous to suggest that we can make a difference in the lives of others by working in the service of an economy that thrives on economic disparity. This is most vividly illustrated when he lists all of his entrepreneurial adventures as a child and the lessons he learned from each. The most interesting was his lesson in buying low and selling high, which he discovered when buying comic books from “the poor kids” and sold them to the “rich kids” for a sizable profit; another related lesson was to never reveal your source, as he almost got assaulted after a “rich kid” discovered the source of his products. More immediately, what makes Herold’s discourse so unnerving is his suggestion that mania, stress, depression, bi-polar and attention deficit disorder can all be productively redirected into capital. Indeed, bi-polar disorder is cited as a CEO disease. Certainly this warrants some criticism?

My curiosity in light of this talk is the limits of discourse: why is it that consumers (because that’s what we all are now) desire a system in which creativity, innovation and growth presupposes division, inequality and injustice? Why is this rhetoric so powerful? I hope to explore this more fully when considering the geographical shift in education, from physical spaces to virtual spaces — spaces which seem to coincide with some of this discourse in which the autonomous individual is capable of creating opportunities for herself and for whom the sky’s the limit.

I think, kids could change the world not as entrepreneurs, but rather as radicals. They should turn that lemonade stand into a open mic and, rather than buying low and selling high, kids should be connecting geographies between markets, turning markets into commons and consumers into communities. Where creativity isn’t something we can imagine within the limits of imagination, but beyond it. In growth that doesn’t presuppose a growth of advanced liberal state formations. And that we shouldn’t be looking only toward the sky, but, rather, under the earth; across the horizon. Or perhaps we should be feeling our way through the dark, perhaps crawling on the ceilings, connecting smell-taste assemblages. Creativity as unimagined form and expression.

Humanity and the Digital Revolution – Michel Serres at USI

Michel Serres is the author of the well known book The Parasite, in which he uses the model of the parasite/host to draw a link to the ways in which humans can influence public discourse — as a metaphor for human relations. He was invited to Unexpected Sources of Inspiration (USI) to discuss how humanity has changed as a result of the digital revolution.

He begins with a discussion of the word ‘humanely’ which has two definitions in French: an ethical, moral (i.e., dealing with someone humanely) or an anthropological one, which is the definition he takes up in discussing the ‘man’ of today. I found this discussion relevant for my work because it gives substance to the notion that digital technologies are impacting our very being in ways we can’t yet trace. He terms this a ‘transitory period of crisis’ although I don’t think he uses the word crisis to allude to a morality, but rather to an entrenchment in a change — in a newness — which we are not yet able to make sense out of. What do we mean by the word new? Serres provides a quantitative definition of new as being “proportional to the time length that this event is stopping.”  So his argument is that ‘man’ is changing. Here are his supporting points:

1. We are no longer a farming humanity: At the beginning of the last century, farming in Paris comprised a little over 70% of the population, whereas today it is difficult to even see a farmer. This is in large part due to the war, which wiped out a significant number of this population, in addition to introducing new technologies. He marks 1950 as the end of this period.

2. We live largely in cities: in 1830, only 8% of humanity lived in cities; in 2050, we are certain that figure will reach 50-60%. The result is changing housing patterns, in addition to contributing to the marginalization of rural life. This has an affect on history, which has always privileged the city, as well as on our behavior and mindset.

3. Our relationship to our body has changed: Before WWII, the distribution of a physician’s diagnosis were 36%  syphilis, 30% of tuberculosis and 40% as ‘other’ ailments. Today, antibiotics have eradicated infectious diseases (although we know this is also a produces inequities in which the question is really “eradicated for whom?”) and, in the developing world, our relationship to one another is no longer characterized by pain.

4. Increase in demographics and life expectancy: The impact of point #3 is that we are living longer. In 1820, a woman was not expected to live beyond the age of 30, whereas today, 30 is considered her prime. Today’s life expectancy is 84-85 and grows by about 6 months every year, except in the US, where it is decreasing. As a result, our economy – particularly the distribution of wealth along lineage  – is changing.

5. Space is changing: Serres uses the notion of the ‘address’ to illustrate this point by saying that his home address — a metric space — no longer receives mail; however, his mobile devices do. This isn’t to suggest that there is a time-space compression: we have changed space, not address. This requires a new imagining of institutions that have not yet been invented, thus impacting laws which serve to regulate this new space.

6. Language is changing: The rate of change, which he defines as a difference in gradient between words that enter and exit a dictionary on a given year, is extraordinary. In the case of the French language, an average of 2000-3000 words shift from those leaving to those coming in; however, the next publication will have a difference of 37,000 words in a language which has 150,000 words. This shift is taking place across a number of languages, including English, and is largely the result of the fact that most of the trades that existed in the 1950s don’t exist anymore.

7. The West has been living in peace for 65 years, which hasn’t happened since the last Trojan War.

I find his points convincing, but certainly lacking in the sense that he provides observation of major changes ‘mankind’ is undergoing, linking largely to statistical data, but doesn’t seem to touch upon the ways in which the West, by its very definition, is constituted by the exploitation of resources and labour in countries it terms developing. As if our accomplishments were achieved without a cost. Arguably, it is the very advancement of our civilization that will lead to its collapse.