Will “Big-Thinking” Kids Adopt YouTube for Intellectuals?

bigthink_logo.gif High school brought forth some of my most thought-provoking peer to peer dialogue unmatched to this day.

AP Honors Students. Brainiacs. SheGeeks. Ponderers. Really interesting global people. I’ll probably find some of them on YouTube’s new Big Think, which carries the tagline, “We are what you think.”

BigThink starts by defining what it is and how to use it framed around a 10 question core of “notable brains” to give shape to the conversation. (and yes, there’s a demo video, too)

Here’s an example of their ‘media & the press’ clips, to launch dialog akin to our post on Table Topics for family fun. And here’s a clip asking whether we “romanticize the impact of parenting” prompting a personal history catharsis…Fascinating.

Will kids embrace BigThink? Is so, what age? Or do they already do this naturally, by mind-stretching to figure out who they are and find their place in the world?

Yesterday my 12-year old got into BigThink after bball out of the blue, rambling on with a gal pal about “where space ends, new beginnings into other worlds, black holes, how do we feel things, how do we speak, where did languages start, what if none of it’s real and this is all in our minds”…Whoa.

I yearn for that kind of ‘collegiate coffee shop’ banter and have tried to replicate those days of teen scene late-nighters lounging under the stars in Waikiki contemplating life, love and the metaphysical universe…but it seems to be a ‘reach’ with adults caught up in ‘small think’ minutiae. Many resist mental flossing or ‘big think’ chats…Why is that?

It’s not that we’re ‘stupid’ (contrary to kids’ media presenting adults as idiots) nor are kids inherently ‘smart’ (again, contrary to sitcom über-cleverness)…And it’s not as if we as a human species somehow devolve into boring, numb lemmings once youth disappears.

It just seems the ‘what ifs’ and ‘big ideas,’ get shoved onto the backburner of life, as ‘shoulds’ and media/marketing cues frame the context for what constitutes ‘purposeful pursuits’ (job, acquisition, family) and societal/cultural expectations.

Kids are urged to explore big ideas with phrases like ‘no question is stupid,’ or ‘this is the time to figure out who you are’…

But adults? We’re somehow supposed to know this stuff…

skydoor1.jpgIt’s as if there’s some vanishing draw bridge that pulls up behind you as you segue out of youth, leaving adults in a high stakes bluff-n-cover game living in ‘fear’ of being found out that hey, guess what? We don’t know the answers either…

Bah. I say, “Be bold.” There’s tons of fun in ‘not knowing.’ (Ahem, cue my midlife anthem “Unwritten”) Thankfully, social media brings us fantastic forums and connectivity through the internet.

TedTalks. Our friends at QuantumShiftTV (profile on founder Hugo Bonjean coming soon!) Dropping Knowledge. The third culture site of the Edge. The Long Now Foundation. And now, thousands of ideas on YouTube’s Big Think.

As a life-long learner, I’m thrilled.

teachingcompany.jpgAs an aside, (lifelong learning plug) here’s my favorite site for easy cd media access to all those Ivy League profs & cool classes you never had time to take, sans stress of ‘grades’, to enjoy at your own pace—I listened to an existential philosophy class called “No Excuses” on a catamaran in the Caribe and my boat partners thought I was gonzo…but then, I brought Tolstoy and Jimmy Buffett too, so I’m a little weird…

Without further ado, here’s Shaping Youth correspondent John N. Kelly, scenario planner, educator, and one of our ‘big think’ fellows with a guest editorial on YouTube’s new hub for big ideas, suggesting how Big Think might impact youth (and all ages) in furthering the digital dialog.

What to think of Big Think? (beta)

A Review By J. Newman Kelly, Shaping Youth correspondent

Given the torrent of dubious junk on the Web, Big Think easily stands out.

It starts out as an orchestrated video blog by famous and near-famous thinkers answering simple but profound questions: Who are you? What do you do? What inspires you? What should we be asking ourselves?

The expert answers are for the most part crisp — without the time-filling presence of an interviewer, so they are more watchable than a documentary on the same subject. But short expert videos are just the teaser for Big Think’s higher ambition. Viewers are urged to join the dialogue in several ways: to vote (agree vs. disagree) to send in comments, and ultimately to create their own videos.

Big Think is not the first attempt to create a “You Tube for Big Ideas.” One earlier effort, Dropping Knowledge.org, began with more questions, experts, and an international scope. It’s a great site with inspiring social commentary. Unfortunately, as with many well-intentioned web ventures, knowledge on Dropping Knowledge is more ‘dropped’ than cultivated. They do have a graphic topic browser (something Big Think needs).

The names of high volume commenters suggest a micro-community of fans — great for those in it, but a symptom of the problem all social sites face: How do you get a diverse range of contributors to join in?

Once they form a community of interest, how do you keep them from in breeding or becoming a subtle sub-culture that limits the dialogue and discourages newbies? And how do you avoid accumulating a pile of vague, off-topic, or merely personal comments that no one will bother to read, rate, or help organize?

Big Think is about to face a similar crisis and opportunity. People who are passionate about its questions will be willing to wade through considerable amounts of uneven material to investigate them. To engage less committed knowledge shoppers (including the young and old who are not sure if they should care about these questions), Big Think will need a re-think.

They should more carefully finesse the stark speed bump that separates professionally edited, quasi-celebrity videos from the dissipating experience of browsing the less focused mass of text and video comments uploaded from the broader public. How could they do this?

One challenge is to create clear visual navigation tools that will help users track comments and discussions that might interest them. New knowledge explorers don’t know what terms to put into a search, nor can they easily see that the global buckets labeled “Meta” and “Physical” are far more richly nuanced than the closeout special bin at a big box outlet.

Big Think should help new users quickly find out what is there, understand how it got there (navigable contribution histories), and gracefully categorize or infer what should be kept nearer the top of lists. We wish the Bigthinkers the best in using the wisdom of crowds to help crowds discover more of their wisdom.

How well will Big Think serve youth?

Serious teens and possibly some pre-teens who wonder about the meaning of life will get to see (for now, only) older adults who speak their hearts and minds on these topics.

Teachers or tutors could ask students to choose which Big Thinkers they agree and disagree with to begin a discussion.

Classes or after-school groups could take on the task of producing a collaborative video response to one of the big questions. We can hope that many things like this happen.

The ultimate “Bigger Think” may be to invent an easier way to mash up the contributions that grow around a question before they become an inscrutable mass of opinion fragments. Mashing, or re-editing content makes the contributor’s point of view both more obvious and more fun to watch.

Adding music or a beat in some cases, speaking aloud the best text responses of others while showing them on the screen, and fitting into either an official or practical time limit could give new life to old or more fragmentary contributions.

Unmashed text, audio and video should still be encouraged, but the ultimate goal for a contributor might be to either have their contribution picked up by another director/editor or to become one themselves.

Big Think could run contests rewarding the best use of existing contributions on the site. Probably fewer than one in five thousand page viewers will create video or graphic mashups. But the possibility of being included in one may motivate others to raise the quality and clarity of their contributions.

In other words, to think big.

–J. Newman Kelly for Shaping Youth



  1. After reading through this article, I feel that I really need more info. Can you share some more resources please?

  2. Not sure what kind of resources you mean, Ted…pls. enlighten?

  3. I’d like to say that you always offer valid information and I have been an fascinated reader of your site for quite some time. I wanted to say thankyou really 🙂 for all the good work you do!

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