Someone mentioned to me today that the physicist Brian Cox is doing a tour. Not newsworthy in itself perhaps. But then I took a look at the venues. It’s an arena tour! Just for a bit of context, he’s ‘playing’ Wembley Arena. That’s 10-12,000 people. And what’s more those tickets are flying out the door…
It’s more like a rock concert. But what’s fascinating is that this really isn’t unique. The past 18 months or so has seen a huge growth in events where ‘clever people’ (for some reason, I’ve always struggled with the term ‘Intellectual’, although that clearly applies in most of the cases) are sitting on stages and holding forth on science, philosophy, mathematics – and all manner of other subjects that, not to put too fine a point on it, would be hated by a huge proportion of average school-going children. Just take a look at the recent tours by people like Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson amongst others.
So what’s going on? I can only guess. I’m going to suggest it’s two things:-
Continued Growth of The Digital World
As more information becomes accessible, there is a vast amount of knowledge available for free online. As a result, people (or at least those who live in societies that afford individuals both the opportunity and infrastructure to access the internet at will) have woken up to the fact that often subjects that bored you senseless in school when you were compelled to focus solely on passing exams are actually fascinating once you replace the well-meaning teacher intent with the passion to follow your own curiosity.
Want to know what a wormhole is? No problem. Use your mobile and dive down that particular rabbit hole. You don’t need all those qualifications to at least skim the subject in order to see whether you’re truly interested in the details.
Now of course, the results aren’t uniquely good. It does mean that there’s a vast number of people who believe they’re experts simply because they read a few articles online. That’s no substitution for four years of intensive subject-specific study. But at least you’re able to bring your experiences and knowledge from other parts of your life and education to the party. Who knows? They might be exactly the qualities that those immersed in the details were waiting for.
Tribes Are Becoming Easier To Find And Identify With
I loved Seth Godin’s book ‘Tribes‘ a few years ago. It’s one of only a few that I have in paperback, ebook and audiobook (there’s also a TED talk). That concept resonated in so many ways. Fundamentally people are now able to quickly identify others that find the same things interesting that they do. And, thanks to the power of social media, online video and – yes – blogs, they’re more than happy to come together to share in that conversation.
There’s no longer two or maybe three choices in every area of your life. Instead, there are countless little subgroups of interests and, in almost every single case, human nature shows that the pack will coalesce around the leadership of at least one individual. Whether they have blind faith in that individual is up for debate. Some do of course. But I believe that for the most part, people just want to be around people who’re like them, at some level. They want to be in groups where they know that the conversation will both interest and stretch them. And it’s not hard to see the attraction of surrounding yourself with others when you’re genuinely curious in the same subject – and you can see that the community is so broad that the likelihood of finding a few minds with truly groundbreaking insight is higher than ever before.
Some people worry about the growth of the Intellectual Dark Web. But then again, some people worry about everything. Me? I’d be far more worried if they start closing down these conversations. We all need culture, we all need stories – but we also need people coming together to discuss some of the more fascinating and difficult subjects that face us today.
All of which gives me another excuse to post one of my top three favourite videos on YouTube from Derek Sivers. I’ve watched this many times over the years and it pops into my head often. So if you haven’t seen it, it’s only 6 minutes – take a chance…