Jad Abumrad - Radio Killed the Video Star

Who would have guessed that, in 2012, radio could rival video as a medium for communicating complex scientific and mathematical concepts? 

What’s the Big Idea?

Chances are you’d have been laughed out of the offices of most Hollywood producers if, a year ago, you had suggested that a silent movie could win five academy awards, three Golden Globes, and seven BAFTAs. But that’s exactly what happened in 2012: to date, the Artist, a lighthearted French silent comedy about the birth of “talkies,” has won fifteen major awards and grossed over $118 million worldwide.

Citizen Kane, it was not. The Artist  is a romantic romp with all the philosophical depth of, say, Cats. What’s astonishing, though, is the film’s ability to captivate not in spite of the fact – but because nobody’s talking. Without a screenwriter to walk you through the developing narrative, you find yourself attentive in a heightened way to visual and auditory details. To the musical score. To little sight gags the directors have planted in the background.

Rumors of the death of this or that technology at the hands of something shiny and new are often greatly exaggerated. While it’s true that investors and industry tend to follow innovation, turning older media (like LPs) into collectors items, new tools rarely replace their predecessors completely. Bicycles have advantages (exercise, easy parking) that cars do not. The living history of your personal bookshelf is a fundamentally different thing from an alphabetized Kindle menu.

Take radio, too. Who would have guessed that, in 2012, radio could rival, and in some ways beat both “chalk & talk” and video as a medium for communicating complex scientific and mathematical concepts? Yet Radiolab, WNYC’s brilliant, nationally syndicated public radio show created and co-hosted by Jad Abumrad, does exactly that. Abumrad says that radio’s unique storytelling power has to do both with the inherent complexity of the human voice and the strange intimacy of hearing it through your headphones or speakers, talking directly to you.

What’s the Significance?

Everybody knows that things are changing fast these days. But a healthy skepticism is in order with respect to the perpetual hype machine that warns: “adopt technology x or be left behind!” By all means, get on Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and any other channel you have the time, inclination, and/or motive to explore. But when you’ve got an urgent message to communicate to the world, consider your unique talent as a storyteller – is it your voice? your words? your PowerPoint jujitsu? Then put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Imagine what it feels like to receive this message from you as a tweet, a live talk, a 300 page tome, or a blog post.

For Abumrad, the goal is to lead listeners to those moments of wonder you experience as a kid in grade school, when you’re understanding something really big for the first time. With his composer’s ear and the unique properties of radio, a sound-only medium has been the ideal creative playspace. It has enabled him to invent an entirely new form of storytelling – one that incorporates 21st century technology, but derives its power from the oldest communications technology known to man – the human voice.

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.

Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.

Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.

  • Beethovan and Picasso are the perfect examples for mastering the creative process.
  • Behind each of their works are countless studies and sketches.
  • The lesson? Never erase anything, keep iterating, and find new paths to familiar destinations.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less