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Kidult Vs. Adult: America’s Next Great Divide?

With Big Bird’s surreal moment in the national spotlight, last Wednesday evening marked not only the first Presidential Debate of 2012 but also America's first national political Kidult moment. 

Kidult Vs. Adult: America’s Next Great Divide?

With Big Bird’s surreal moment in the national spotlight, last Wednesday evening marked not only the first Presidential Debate of 2012 but also America's first national political Kidult moment. 


Kidult, the phenomenon of adults acting like kids and embracing entertainment, food and fashion that are typically geared towards children, is a Content Network we track at sparks & honey. Kidult is also about the phenomenon of kids acting like adults and participating in traditionally grown-up conversations and actions involving politics, business and social change. (See our Kidult Content Network Deep Dive Report for more detail). Beyond the political debate fueled by Big Bird, a rising tide of Kidult manifestations have emerged recently, such as movies like Ted, which tells the story of a grown man and his foul-mouthed teddy bear, which grossed $435 million at the box office this summer. Ted's creator Seth MacFarlane, who also created Family Guy and American Dad, is clearly the poster child of one strain of the Kidult movement, and he's just been tapped to host the 2012 Oscars. Real kids like Talia Leman, founder of RandomKid, an organization that empowers kids to change the world, and fashion influencer Tavi Gevinson are representative of the counterbalancing side of Kidult.  

For adults, the Kidult Content Network is driven largely by major social, economic and cultural shifts here in the United States, most notably the financial crisis, recession and slow economic recovery. In the face of the very real adult worries, insecurities and ambient anxiety that underlie so much of American life today, the Kidult movement offers a break from reality and an opportunity to reconnect with our own less-complicated selves.  

Which is exactly how the Big Bird meme played out last Wednesday night. Michelle Cottle of Newsweek described Romney's Big Bird comment, in which Romney promised to cut government funding for PBS, as one of the only memorable moments of the debate, and it provided Kidults everywhere with something relevant and meaningful around which they could easily form a point of view. Twitter swiftly erupted in support of Big Bird - according to CNN, the #savingbigbird hashtag increased 800,000 percent to 17,000 tweets per minute - and as of today the sparks & honey cultural mapping platform identified nearly one million mentions of Big Bird and Sesame Street across the social Web. In fact, online searches for PBS and Big Bird outpaced searches for purely grown-up keywords such as “healthcare” and “taxes,” and several petitions in support of Big Bird emerged - including our own, urging Twitter to hire Big Bird as its new mascot.

A Kidult-oriented slant continued over the weekend with Big Bird’s appearance on Saturday Night Live's “Weekend Update” and a front page story in the NewYork Times on Monday. But this morning's breaking news suggests an interesting cultural divide between Kidult and Adult. The Obama campaign just released its latest ad, which pokes fun at Romney's statement about Big Bird and questions whether Wall Street or Sesame Street is the one dragging down the U.S. economy. At the same time, the Romney campaign is dominating headlines for snubbing Nickelodeon's "Kids Pick the President" Special. Both manifestations score a 4/5 on the sparks & honey Energy scale –  Obama’s new ad which Sesame Street has asked the campaign to take down, received thousands of views in just its first few hours of release, while the Romney announcement has been shared over 5,000 times. 

Are we witnessing the emergent seeds of a broader cultural chasm between the mature and the immature, the proper and the playful? And if so, what are the implications of this partition for brand communications, for social systems, and for our society? Is association with the Kidult vs. the Adult a new demographic divide that will define our futures? sparks & honey will be watching closely to find out. 

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Quantum particles timed as they tunnel through a solid

A clever new study definitively measures how long it takes for quantum particles to pass through a barrier.

Image source: carlos castilla/Shutterstock
  • Quantum particles can tunnel through seemingly impassable barriers, popping up on the other side.
  • Quantum tunneling is not a new discovery, but there's a lot that's unknown about it.
  • By super-cooling rubidium particles, researchers use their spinning as a magnetic timer.

When it comes to weird behavior, there's nothing quite like the quantum world. On top of that world-class head scratcher entanglement, there's also quantum tunneling — the mysterious process in which particles somehow find their way through what should be impenetrable barriers.

Exactly why or even how quantum tunneling happens is unknown: Do particles just pop over to the other side instantaneously in the same way entangled particles interact? Or do they progressively tunnel through? Previous research has been conflicting.

That quantum tunneling occurs has not been a matter of debate since it was discovered in the 1920s. When IBM famously wrote their name on a nickel substrate using 35 xenon atoms, they used a scanning tunneling microscope to see what they were doing. And tunnel diodes are fast-switching semiconductors that derive their negative resistance from quantum tunneling.

Nonetheless, "Quantum tunneling is one of the most puzzling of quantum phenomena," says Aephraim Steinberg of the Quantum Information Science Program at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto to Live Science. Speaking with Scientific American he explains, "It's as though the particle dug a tunnel under the hill and appeared on the other."

Steinberg is a co-author of a study just published in the journal Nature that presents a series of clever experiments that allowed researchers to measure the amount of time it takes tunneling particles to find their way through a barrier. "And it is fantastic that we're now able to actually study it in this way."

Frozen rubidium atoms

Image source: Viktoriia Debopre/Shutterstock/Big Think

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the time it takes for tunneling to occur is knowing precisely when it's begun and when it's finished. The authors of the new study solved this by devising a system based on particles' precession.

Subatomic particles all have magnetic qualities, and they spin, or "precess," like a top when they encounter an external magnetic field. With this in mind, the authors of the study decided to construct a barrier with a magnetic field, causing any particles passing through it to precess as they did so. They wouldn't precess before entering the field or after, so by observing and timing the duration of the particles' precession, the researchers could definitively identify the length of time it took them to tunnel through the barrier.

To construct their barrier, the scientists cooled about 8,000 rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In this state, they form a Bose-Einstein condensate, AKA the fifth-known form of matter. When in this state, atoms slow down and can be clumped together rather than flying around independently at high speeds. (We've written before about a Bose-Einstein experiment in space.)

Using a laser, the researchers pusehd about 2,000 rubidium atoms together in a barrier about 1.3 micrometers thick, endowing it with a pseudo-magnetic field. Compared to a single rubidium atom, this is a very thick wall, comparable to a half a mile deep if you yourself were a foot thick.

With the wall prepared, a second laser nudged individual rubidium atoms toward it. Most of the atoms simply bounced off the barrier, but about 3% of them went right through as hoped. Precise measurement of their precession produced the result: It took them 0.61 milliseconds to get through.

Reactions to the study

Scientists not involved in the research find its results compelling.

"This is a beautiful experiment," according to Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia. "Just to do it is a heroic effort." Drew Alton of Augustana University, in South Dakota tells Live Science, "The experiment is a breathtaking technical achievement."

What makes the researchers' results so exceptional is their unambiguity. Says Chad Orzel at Union College in New York, "Their experiment is ingeniously constructed to make it difficult to interpret as anything other than what they say." He calls the research, "one of the best examples you'll see of a thought experiment made real." Litvinyuk agrees: "I see no holes in this."

As for the researchers themselves, enhancements to their experimental apparatus are underway to help them learn more. "We're working on a new measurement where we make the barrier thicker," Steinberg said. In addition, there's also the interesting question of whether or not that 0.61-millisecond trip occurs at a steady rate: "It will be very interesting to see if the atoms' speed is constant or not."

Self-driving cars to race for $1.5 million at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ​

So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.

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