Aengus Anderson This is The Conversation, a project by Aengus Anderson and Micah Saul.

Micah Saul: Oh my God, we are swamped right now.

Anderson Yeah, we are swamped. We had these starry-eyed notions of being able to turn two of these things around a week. That’s just not real­is­tic. I wrote a blog post about that, if you’re curi­ous to read more of the sort of logis­ti­cal stuff. But the long and short is I spend a lot of time edit­ing and a lot of time trav­el­ing, and I just don’t have enough time to edit. So, we’ve got five inter­views stacked up in front of us now. By the time, hon­est­ly, I get the next one post­ed, which is going to be Laura Musikanski from The Happiness Initiative, we’ll prob­a­bly be sev­en or eight deep in interviews. 

So we’ve been talk­ing a lit­tle bit about this, about how the hell do we address this prob­lem, and we only have one solution. 

Saul: This project needs to take longer than we orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed. We need to sort of increase the time frame. Aengus was plan­ning on being in New York by September. At this point, it’s look­ing like ear­ly October is the ear­li­est that’s pos­si­bly going to happen.

Anderson Basically, we do need to sort of slow down the pace. Realistically I can prob­a­bly edit about one of these a week. And to real­ly get all the voic­es that we want in the project, we’ve already cut out so many that we want. People who’d just incred­i­ble and who have agreed to talk to us. So the only way to do that is with more time.

That aside, we have been hav­ing a dis­cus­sion amongst our­selves about elit­ism and to the sort of voic­es that we’re hear­ing in a project like this. And one of the tricks of talk­ing to peo­ple about the future is that often you get peo­ple who have a lot of time to think about the future. And there is sort of a class back­ground that enables that, and Cameron Whitten point­ed that out.

Saul: I was gonna say I think Cameron Whitten said it best. He was the first per­son to real­ly bring class into the con­ver­sa­tion, and he did it in a way that just… I don’t know, kin­da punched me in the face. The peo­ple we’re talk­ing to are doing pret­ty okay. And so that real­ly did raise the ques­tion like, is this an elit­ist project? Are we…are the peo­ple we are talk­ing to fun­da­men­tal­ly removed from the trou­bles of the nor­mal per­son in such a way that actu­al­ly what they’re say­ing can’t even talk to them?

Anderson It’s also some­thing where we won­der about our research bias, right? We find a lot of these peo­ple through rec­om­men­da­tions. We ask every per­son we know who is a spe­cial­ist in some kind of field to rec­om­mend peo­ple. We also spent a lot of time dig­ging around online. But in both of those cas­es we tend to find peo­ple who are pret­ty vis­i­ble. And often the peo­ple who are pret­ty vis­i­ble are pret­ty afflu­ent. I don’t know where we find amaz­ing thinkers who you can’t learn about online. Or who aren’t published.

Saul: Certain peo­ple we’ve had con­ver­sa­tions with so far through the project would actu­al­ly be crit­i­ciz­ing us on the bias inher­ent in our overuse of tech­nol­o­gy for for this research.

Anderson This is where I’m going to plead the John Zerzan and say, you know what we just can’t opt out. 

Saul: Right. Let’s give an exam­ple. I mean, we real­ly want­ed to find more peo­ple in the cen­ter of the coun­try. We real­ly want­ed to find peo­ple out­side of the cities. We did­n’t real­ly know how to do that. You’ve got the coastal poles, with a few excep­tions, big cities in the cen­ter of the coun­try, the North cen­ter of the coun­try. There’s only a few peo­ple we’ve found out­side of the cities.

Anderson Actually, I think this ties back into the thing we start­ed our episode here with. As the project has gone along, we’ve learned about more peo­ple in the mid­dle. We’ve learned about more peo­ple who are in small­er places. And now we almost need to extend the length of the project so I can cir­cle back and get them.

Saul: Right.

Anderson But there are some oth­er things to think about when we’re think­ing about elit­ism. One is, do we have enough inter­ac­tion between lis­ten­ers and interviewees? 

Saul: No.

Anderson No. We don’t. And we feel bad about that. It makes us real­ly sad. Because look, we don’t want to be elit­ist, right. It’s real­ly easy to have a pas­sive radio project, and if you think about The Conversation as a radio project, it’s prob­a­bly a lot eas­i­er to just sort of tune into the pod­cast feed go, Oh, these are inter­est­ing ideas being put out there. That’s an enter­tain­ing episode. Or Aengus is real­ly incom­pe­tent, I wish he’d stop ask­ing ques­tions like that.” But, we real­ly want you to talk back. Not in a sort of chat room way, but in a real like, write to us. Write to the inter­vie­wees. I will car­ry those com­ments into the actu­al conversations. 

Anderson If that does­n’t hap­pen, then ulti­mate­ly we’re just giv­ing these peo­ple a plat­form, which is what we did­n’t want to do. I mean, it’s cool to give them a plat­form, but it’s a lot cool­er to not have a plat­form and just have them sit­ting across from you at a table.

Saul: Exactly. This is sup­pose to be a con­ver­sa­tion. The pub­lished thinkers, they’re not the only ones in con­trol of our future. We all are. Until we are all in con­ver­sa­tion, this project is not doing what we think it should. We need to fig­ure out a way to get more peo­ple involved online.

Anderson And we know you’re out there.

Saul: We do. I think we just want to throw some ques­tions at you. Is this an elit­ist project? If it is, how do we change that? What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? This is the best time now for you to real­ly cri­tique us on the struc­ture. Or on our hypothe­ses in gen­er­al. Let us know. We want to hear this.

Anderson The pro­jec­t’s devel­oped enough now that I think we we can see it falling into a cer­tain rhythm. We know more less how some of it’s going to sound, but there’s still a lot of wig­gle room. We’ve got a lot of inter­views lined up. But if we make the project longer, then we still have the abil­i­ty to bring in a lot of new ideas.

One thing I’m espe­cial­ly curi­ous about is what themes would you want to see us pur­sue more? We got a com­ment ear­li­er today men­tion­ing adver­tis­ing. Advertising and media are ones that we’ve…I mean, they’ve bare­ly come up even with­in the inter­views we’ve had thus far. We’re going to do some con­ver­sa­tions com­ing up which will focus sole­ly on media. Gender is some­thing that has­n’t come up at all. Race, in a seri­ous way, has not come up at all. 

Saul: Class only recent­ly reared its head, and I think there’s a hell of a lot more to talk about there.

Anderson Yes. And because now we’re sort of clair­voy­ant, we can see five episodes down the road that you can’t hear yet. Class is going to come up in a real­ly big way in the next two.

Saul: But what voic­es have we just not noticed yet? We can’t have a demo­c­ra­t­ic process when it’s just the two of us. 

Anderson But you know, we are here to ques­tion fun­da­men­tal assump­tions, so I think democ­ra­cy is some­thing that we may have to question.

Saul: Sure.

Anderson Maybe we should just be telling peo­ple about the future and they should be pas­sive­ly lis­ten­ing to our genius.

Saul: See, that would work if either of us were geniuses.

Anderson Oh, shit. We would real­ly pre­fer it did­n’t hap­pen like that. So write to us. And you know what, with­out let’s just shut up because we’ve been talk­ing way too long.

Saul: That sounds good.

Further Reference

This inter­view at the Conversation web site, with project notes, com­ments, and tax­o­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion spe­cif­ic to The Conversation.