Brain-picking CurrentTV’s Max Lugavere & Jason Silva
By Maria Popova
Last week, we reported from TED, where the world’s intelligencia gathered once again to dispense cerebral stimulation and creative urgency. But the best part about this magical gathering is always the incredible wealth of human interestingness in attendance. Among these exceptional minds were Max Lugavere and Jason Silva, founding hosts of CurrentTV, the Emmy-award-winning network launched by Al Gore in 2005. At the intersection of film, philosophy and smartertainment, Max and Jason’s flagship show, Max & Jason: Still Up, curates a late-night hour of short-form documentaries from around the world.
Besides their pivotal role at Current, the duo have also hosted Pangea Day and appeared in GAP’s 2008 ICONS campaign. Oh, and they’re great fun — tremendously intelligent, but with just the right amount of healthy goof to prevent them from taking themselves too seriously.
We caught up with Max and Jason over delicious Thai food to chat about curation, scientific progress and the cross-pollination of disciplines — passion points we seem to share. Here’s a peek inside their fascinating brains.
Tell us a bit about your background and your brand of creative curiosity.
Jason: I have always had a relentless curiosity and passion for big ideas.
In fact, I am so enthralled by moments of insight that I have felt compelled to film such moments as a way to immortalize them. Big ideas wash over me, they inspire me… but they are fleeting… and so filming them or writing about them, or even socially broadcasting them on Facebook, is way of imprinting permanence on these ideas themselves and also how they made me feel.
Max: I have an informal background in computer science, graphic design, filmmaking, and music.
I’m naturally extremely creatively curious and my methods for expression have transitioned in the past couple of years from the digital — I taught myself to program in 3 languages, and have always loved doing web-based design — to the analog: filmmaking, songwriting, etc.
I’m obsessed with the euphoric rush that comes with the creation of something entirely new.
I also love the challenge of figuring out how to make abstract ideas become reality that other people can relate to or feel — whether the idea is a performance or a design or a piece of code. It has been my lifeblood.
How will science better humanity in the age of the social web? How will social science and science-science intersect more meaningfully?
Max: Science will more effectively enhance humanity because information will be free and ubiquitous, and the truths of our own existence will no longer be esoteric abstractions but instead packaged in cool ways with interfaces and context that make sense.
The future of science will basically be a lovechild of great design and fascinating information.
Jason: Science and technology are really the only things that have helped humans overcome problems, obstacles and limitations. Science extends our understanding and our reach.
Science and technology interconnect us, allow us to comprehend each other better and enrich our experience by virtue of knowing how things are tied together. On occasion, science can lack a good narrative — this is where we need to tell better stories. Art-direction, aesthetics, design and framing — all key things to make science and technology meaningful and visceral.
Today, we are all plugged in to an all-encompassing techno-sphere. One billion minds interconnected, surely setting up the conditions for the emergence of a super-organism. It certainly makes me excited to connect with so many minds, time and space no longer limitations. The result is transcendence — something greater than the sum of its parts.
User-generated content can be of questionable quality – how do curators work as quality-control to deliver something truly compelling?
Max: Curators are essential because our world is becoming increasingly more digitized and information is everywhere. Content is being consumed faster and with greater voracity than ever before. However, not all of this information is deserving of our valuable attention spans and it’s up to us to share what is worth taking note of — be it a noble cause, a perspective, a gorgeous song, a beautiful film, the latest research, etc. Since everyone basically becomes a curator, or has the power to curate because of the way social networks are designed, it’s up to the individual to decide how best to use that platform — or whether to use it at all.
Jason: The job of the curator is to act as a barometer of wow.
Good curators have an innate “aha” ability to be easily moved, enthralled and inspired by content that is magnificently curious. They have their eyes unusually peeled and the best of them never fail to find spine-tingling content. Curation of wow is key to having meaningful experiences when consuming information.
Where do you see the cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines going in the next decade?
Jason: More interconnection… more curation, more framing….
Each of us has the responsibility to act as a lens and lend focus to the content and the ideas that will enrich the world and elicit our sense of wonder.
I think technology will continue to extend our capabilities exponentially and our right-brain fantasies will be easily manifest in the digital realm — so much so, that I predict a blurring between the digital and the real. I see augmented reality contextualizing and interfacing our experiences with content and knowledge in a way that the only constant will be a mental state of extreme lucidity. We will learn so much and it will be so meaningful and magical. I am so excited!
Max: I think science, design, and wellness will be the most stand-out themes of the next couple of years. I also think that we have yet to figure out proper monetization models for our content creators themselves.
We want there to always be incentives in the marketplace for artists to create. However, there’s never been a time like today for sharing and getting your work out there.
I’m pretty psyched for the future.
Published February 15, 2010