Nicholas Negroponte
Co-Founder, MIT Media Lab; Founder, One Laptop Per Child

Should We Unplug More?

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How the digital age has made an “omelet” out of life and work—and why that’s exactly the way we like it.

Nicholas Negroponte

Nicholas Negroponte is the co-founder (with Jerome B. Wiesner) of the MIT Media Lab (1985), which he directed for its first 20 years. A graduate of MIT, Negroponte was a pioneer in the field of computer-aided design and has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1966. He gave the first TED talk in 1984, as well as 13 since. He is author of the 1995 best seller, Being Digital, which has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 2005 he founded the non-profit One Laptop per Child, which deployed $1 billion of laptops for primary education in the developing world. In the private sector, Negroponte served on the board of directors of Motorola (for 15 years) and was general partner in a venture capital firm specializing in digital technologies for information and entertainment. He has personally provided start-up funds for more than 40 companies, including Zagats and Wired magazine. 


Question: Should people “unplug” more to avoid media oversaturation?

Nicholas Negroponte: Well, it's interesting because unplugging is an expression we use and in fact, I find that unplugging is in fact for many people, including me, an uncomfortable state. And that what you do is you get to spend more time doing the things you love because you've used the interstices of time. I remember when I would come back from a trip and have to log in and do all my email and get a download and upload, and so on and so forth. Now, it's all done, not only on the airplane, but in the car back home, or to the airport. And suddenly you've used that otherwise wasted time and you can really use prime time for prime time. We are not quite a forced as we were before to, in the case of overload, to just cram everything out of one's life and I think we're seeing in young people a much more mixed existence where I'd like to describe a sort of life 20 years ago as being a fried egg. There was a yolk and a white and the white was maybe work, and the yolk was life. Today, it's more of an omelet. It's more mixed and it's more interspersed and I think that that's a more interesting state of being and for some people, they'll say well I want the crisp, fried egg approach to life. Well, I think life's turning into an omelet and people will just have to live with that.

Recorded on December 4, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen