Becoming Better Humans — The New Yorker Festival

The New Yorker Festival is a weekend-long celebration wherein New Yorker writers, editors, and artists talk with leading thinkers about politics, pop culture, science and literature. This year, the festival introduced Tech@Fest, a series of events focused on the radical implications of technological advancement and the potential of innovation to reshape society.

For me, the festival was an opportunity to see how professional development can derive from a non-professional event. The sessions aren’t focused on a particular discipline or vocation. They’re not even located at a central site. And I did learn. But the most energizing and relevant insights came from the guy whose work was most directly related to my own: Joi Ito.

"The most important thing about social media is that it transfers both courage and compassion."
Joi Ito

Joi Ito is the Director of MIT Media Lab. Ito didn’t have a prepared talk. Instead, he talked around issues like innovation, creativity, responsibility, privacy, and social activism. He observed—in response to audience members’ disenchantment with Facebook—that “the saddest thing about Facebook is not Facebook, it’s us.” He also insisted that the “the most important thing about social media is that it transfers both courage and compassion.” Essentially, his point was that human beings need to understand our relationship to technology in terms of our own collective cultural habits and patterns. We need to take responsibility for our own participation in the social isolation, consumerism, and intellectual vacancy that we say the web creates. And to those ends, he maintained that the field of technology needs humanists who can code and developers who are humanists.

Ito summarized with nine principles, his unique approach to innovation and creativity during what he calls “the age of the internet.” To utilize technology meaningfully (from the technologists’ end), we need to prioritize:

  • resilience over strength
  • pull over push
  • risk over safety
  • systems over objects
  • compass over maps
  • practice over theory
  • disobedience over compliance
  • emergence over authority
  • learning over education

The relevance of these principles seems infinite. For me, in terms of creative strategy, they suggest the importance of embracing uncertainty and fully possessing “not knowing.” When we hold space for the unknown, we allow for collaboration and play—for what Bruce Nussbaum calls creative intelligence. New possibilities come into focus. Our work is better and we are better to work with. We begin to embody the nine principles as we challenge the culturally entrenched idea that expertise and knowing are the very things from which we derive our personal sense of self and value. So, in Ito’s principles, there’s the opportunity for deeper collaboration and connection, more impactful work, and happier selves.


Written by Cara Ungar, Senior Strategist