Baratunde Thurston is a politically-active, technology-loving comedian from the future. He co-founded the black political blog, Jack and Jill Politics and serves as Director of Digital for The Onion. He has written for Vanity Fair and the UK Independent, hosted Popular Science’s Future Of on Discovery Science and appears on cable news regularly to say smart things in funny ways. Then-candidate Barack Obama called him "someone I need to know." Baratunde travels the world speaking and advising and performs standup regularly in NYC. He resides in Brooklyn, lives on Twitter and has over 30 years experience being black. His first book, How To Be Black, was published in February 2012 by Harper Collins.
Baratunde Thurston: One of the beautiful things about the internet is that everybody has a voice, and one of the terrible things about the internet is that everybody has a voice and a lot of people don’t have anything worth listening to that they say. And so sifting through that and finding a way to determine the signal out of all that noise is one of the challenges of our time. It’s part of the hallmark of shifting from an economy and an ecology of scarcity to one of abundance.
When you have—you know look at a grocery store in the US. That is a fantastical concept to someone from 50 years ago and prior in human existence. It’s still a fantastical concept to people from developing nations. You go to a Star Market or a Walgreens or a Giant Foods or a Whole Foods or what have you. How many choices of cereal do we need? We’ve got like 80 choices of cereal, diet cereal, Chocó Cocoa Crispy, nutty cereal, cereal with oxytocins in them, cereal with herbs and whatnot, weed-infused cereal, probably vodka-infused and bacon-infused, Coca Pebbles, like, it’s getting a bit nuts. And so what that industry has done is kind of thrown a lot of money at marketing and pay for positioning in the store and trying to convince you that, like, this cereal is worth more than that cereal.
And that is a part of the solution, but the real thing is to A, don’t feel as a reader, as a digester, as a downloader of this vast world of abundance, you don’t have to feel obligated to read it all, to view it all. You don’t have to try to know everything or watch everything. There are way too many things, just like there is too many cereal choices in the grocery store, there is too many videos on YouTube to watch them all. And if you’re someone who is pushing stuff out there, you don’t have to read all the comments either. In fact, I advise you heavily not to read all the comments.
Brand is important. Community is important. In a sea of dramatic change where up is down and this is the situation today and that’s the situation tomorrow, people cling to beliefs. They cling to community. They cling to names and brands and places that they trust, and trust is important in this world. And so, if you’re in the business of producing content and information and trying to grab people’s attention, the mere act of producing it is not special. Oh great, you’re a photographer. You take pictures. So do I. So does everybody with a camera phone. That’s no longer special. Building community around that is a little more special. Building a special sensibility and brand and sort of signature and hallmark is special.
So you look at, I don’t know, McSweeney’s, as a literary brand that has live events and a highly tactile experience with some of their printed products and a design aesthetic that signals to a community: this is what we are; we’re more than just words on a page or on a screen; we are an intentional community; we are a perspective on the world.
And the more you send out more than raw data and information but actual intention and sensibility and perspective, the more people will self-identify and find that, especially if you give them chances to also feel like they’re a part of that as well. Because you’re not special just because you can make things. I think it’s very important for people to realize that. Everybody can make things. So what else can you build beyond the raw thing, beyond the bits that you publish?
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that everybody has a voice. And one of the terrible things about the Internet is that everybody has a voice.