Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions

Posted in communications,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the September 7th, 2010

So I’ve been to the Ars Electronica in Linz today, to get exposed to some new thoughts, experiments and visions about what is going on in this world today and I must say I came away pretty impressed. Not only because the venue is spectacular in its own right or because I met Lauren, but because I think there were some projects that were seriously inspiring.

(Now I have to admit – and I somehow can’t help it – that when I say that about art it is in a way „instrumental“. With that I don’t mean a pure sense of functionality, but rather the fact that I can feel some sort of „purpose“ in how it relates to my life or issues that I think are relevant. So this doesn’t mean the other stuff is shite, obviously, I’m just officially not well-versed in arts, probably have a biased approach to it anyways and wanted to state this as an intro here.)

That said, one project that I found particularly interesting is „Dropping Knowledge“ or the documentary that developed out of it: „PROBLEMA – sometimes the worst enemy is our own perception“.

112 persons from 56 countries convened at the Table of Free Voices in Berlin in 2006 to provide answers to global questions about such things as the economy, ethics, war and nation-states. Now, director Ralf Schmerberg (DE) has made a film out of the resulting 11,200 statements interwoven with footage of some of the defining images of our time. The result is major intellectual marathon.

There are different reasons why I find this very interesting. The first one is obviously the content. Don’t have to discuss this I guess. Another reason is scale. It’s a massive marathon of perspectives, intellectual data points from all kinds of different people from all over the world, answering questions about all kinds of things. This is fascinating and mind-bending on its own.

What really does it for me though is the use of questions. I once had a professor who at the end of a session about cognitive media effects asked students a simple question: if they knew some tool or event or person – I’m not quite sure what it was. Then he counted raised hands. At the beginning of the next session he asked again who knew the the person/tool/event. Percentage raised. „Damage“ done. (This is of course simplifying matters as it isn’t persuasion in the strictest sense but only this thing called awareness (recognition, to be strict), but it shows how questions, as a special form of message, can lead to action and investigation into a matter without telling anybody to do anything.)

Now I’m obviously not an expert in socratic philosophy but I’m fascinated by the sheer power questions bring with them (plus I have to be because I need this as an excuse to get on people’s nerves constantly …). They frame issues in a certain way, shifting the perspective and focus. They have a higher chance of „change“ or „persuasion“ if you wish by the simple fact that we can hardly not think about an answer to it.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going here but it seems to be something as banal as: Well-framed open questions can lead to thinking and discussion which can lead to insight on the side of the one who answers. And an insight one gets on his or her own, instead of having it told from somebody else, is something one doesn’t let go of easily.

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions. I like that.