Big Think Interview With Jason Silva
Jason Silva is the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic Channel’s #1 rated and Emmy-nominated series, Brain Games, seen in over 100 countries. “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age” was how The Atlantic described television personality, filmmaker and philosopher Silva, who has also been described as “part Timothy Leary, part Ray Kurzweil, and part Neo from ‘The Matrix.’”
A self-professed wonderjunkie, Silva is the creator of the web series SHOTS OF AWE, micro-documentaries exploring creativity, innovation, the co-evolution of human and technology, futurism, metaphysics, existentialism and the human condition.
Silva’s work has been featured in The Economist, Vanity Fair, Forbes and Wired, among many others.
Question: How do you encourage people to use the Internet for intelligent content?
Jason Silva: Our head of programming, David Newman who in very many ways has become a mentor, to us, he used to say and I love this, "The high road is wide open, the low road is crowded." Because we were the last independent cable network in a world of media conglomerates I think it freed us to seek exceptionality in a way that others perhaps governed by the bottom line couldn't do it. We could start from scratch and therefore that allowed for a space of elevating the conversation. I also think the people were hungry for that. I think reality television has fried some people's brains and I think people were ready for something of more significance for real conversation about this global enterprise.
It's very progressive, people that really are socially conscientious about things that matter to them, and you get a lot of green eco, sort of renewable energy, type of content, people exploring these things, a lot of stuff on politics, unique perspectives on politics around the world, a lot of stuff from the Middle East. I remember a piece of content for example that, you know, one of the very first piece of contents that ever aired on Current was this piece about underground parties seen in Tehran in Iran where this filmmaker, Yazmin showcased how kids have to party in secret hiding from their religious police ‘cause it's very much a theocracy so it's kinda like the religious values are enforced onto people. So you can't drink, you can't party, you can't really... and so it had to be done in hiding.
So here is something that you don't really see... hear about in CNN where you're talking about all these crazy, you know, nuclear, the possibility of nuclear proliferation there, things like that. But here you're seeing like regular kids just trying to have a good time and they're being forced to do it underground. I think it kinda, it reaches people in that demographic here in the States. I think also seeing the election of Obama, I think you've seen a generation of people that are empowered and feel empowered and want to have a say in the world. And I think that that has risen up from the ashes of crap that has been on a lot of television recently.
Question: Do people prefer to consume low-brow content?
Jason Silva: We try to cover the world of young adults and their voice, and from their point of view we tried to do so in a bold and reverend fashion. We don't dump things down for our audience. In fact, even the stuff that is hilarious on the network is jhighly intelligent. We have an animated series called Super News which kind of mocks pop culture in a brilliant fashion.
We have a show that's sort of a comic indictment of the media called Infomania which also is very clever. I mean I mean I think that You can appeal to mass consciousness and pop culture. I mean it doesn't have to be high brow subject matter but it can be tackled even if it's low brow subject matter or mainstream subject matter.
We did an hour, a secular hour exploration of religion and spirituality. You know, if you saw the recent cover of Newsweek it says, the end of Christian America as far as its influence on politics in many ways, which I think is a very good thing. I think religion has no place in politics and so we did an exploration of the way that some people in different religious communities are trying to reach out to larger and larger groups that are no longer identifying themselves of any religion.
Me and Max always liked to have a spirited intellectual discussion if possible, but do so in a way that's fun and natural, and real, and it's the same that we would be having if we were having a cocktail at the bar.
Question: What is the future of television?
Jason Silva: Features such as on demand, the features that you're having on television will continue to become more complex, sophisticated and you'll probably have, I guess, internet browsing on your television and you'll have increased high definition on demand video on the computer. Probably becoming interchangeable, you know, I suspect that communication tools will increasingly become more portable. So more and more of our like typical communication, computer communication will happen on devices such as the Blackberry or the iPhone and so more and more of our content consumption will become more and more interactive but in a medium that looks kinda like big screen, computer monitor/TV.
Question: What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
Jason Silva: I always say that one of the best pieces of advice that I've ever gotten, has been echoed by two great thinkers, my mother Linda Mishkin and Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss." I couldn't agree more with that. My mom always said, "Just do what you love and don't worry about anything else, don't worry about money, don't worry about anything. Just be kind to everyone and do what you love."
As long as you're not hurting anybody else, as long as you're being kind to people and you're doing what you love, only good things can come of it. Other good advices are people who claim to have absolute irrefutable faith in something without any evidence, I would not trust completely. Yeah, I just, I'm a, I relate a lot to people like Carl Sagan. I recently read one of his books that was based on a speech that he gave in a divinity school. It's interesting because Carl Sagan was one hundred percent a scientist but he was very spiritual. I mean and he said, "The universe gives up plenty to be spiritual about, we don't need to adapt any form of dogma."
Look at the evidence and to be willing to question your own truths, and to be willing to scrutinize things that you hold dearly because that way, that transparency, that self awareness will protect you from ever becoming somebody that whose beliefs somehow make them have myopic vision about what could be. So, remain open and be willing to be transformed by new information.
Recorded on: April 14, 2009
A conversation with the host of Current TV.
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