The question is more important than the answer

Yesterday I wrote about the trend that every bit of content that is produced on the Internet seems to get aggregated, producing yet another view of what is already out there. Instead of delivering us inspiration, aggregation brings us more of the same. Aggregation doesn’t inspire us to think, it lets us sit back and consume. I said:

And when people get lost, they will simply return to their human nature. They will look out for the oldest, wisest, or craziest people out there. I don’t think the world needs more information. We don’t need any more or better content aggregation, search algorithms or noise filters. We need more inspiration. We need storytellers (and that will be the topic of another post).

I figured it would be good to spent another post on this topic and introduce you to a few storytellers I deeply admire. These are people that aren’t looking at their rating on any blogging leaderboard. They don’t publish for the sake of it. They don’t bring you the breaking news everyone else already does. They are, in my opinion, people that like to take the time to tell us a story. Something that is nearly always fascinating to read, and often leaves the reader with more questions than answers. They make you think, and that is the sole purpose of their act.

Jonathan Harris

If you are a regular reader of this weblog, then you already know that I am a big fan of Jonathan Harris. He is one of the best storytellers I know. You can find most of his work right here. One of the projects he did that really amazed me is called Universe.


Jonathan writes:

Each night, the great stories of ancient Greek mythology are played out in the sky — Perseus rescues Andromeda from the sea monster; Orion faces the roaring bull; Zeus battles Cronos for control of Mount Olympus. Most of us know the sky holds these great myths, immortalized as constellations. Slightly less well known are the newer constellations, largely added in the 18th and 19th centuries. These more modern constellations reflect a different sort of mythology — a commemoration of art and science, expressed through star groups representing technical inventions like the microscope, the triangle, the compass, the level, and the easel.

As humans, we have a long history of projecting our great stories into the night sky. This leads us to wonder: if we were to make new constellations today, what would they be? If we were to paint new pictures in the sky, what would they depict? These questions form the inspiration for Universe, which explores the notions of modern mythology and contemporary constellations.


Universe is a system that supports the exploration of personal mythology, allowing each of us to find our own constellations, based on our own interests and curiosities. Everyone’s path through Universe is different, just as everyone’s path through life is different. Using the metaphor of an interactive night sky, Universe presents an immersive environment for navigating the world’s contemporary mythology, as found online in global news and information from Daylife.

Universe is a concept in which Jonathan brings back our fascination of content exploration. In the earliest times humans would look at the sky and explore the universe. With universe he has created a concept and interface that allows us to explore the world once again. Instead of sitting back and getting stuff aggregated to your screen or profile, Universe demands you to explore, to discover, to be fascinated. Each trip is different.

There is a whole lot more to discover on his site. I love his work on human emotions (check out “We feel fine”). I have seen him present his work once and ever since I have been following him. For all you Twitter fans out there. Jonathan inspired a Twitter tool that is way cooler and more fascinating than any of the tools I’m aware of. check out twistori to find out what Twitter users are experiencing right now!

Rolf Skyberg

Anyone that has the audacity to write 477 slide long presentations and can keep the audience fascinated throughout each slide is a great storyteller. I discovered Rolf when he delivered a presentation in the Netherlands entitled “Web 2.0 why we got here and what’s next”. I went back to slideshare and looked at each of his slides. Rolf wasn’t presenting us anything. He was telling us a story. He calls himself a pattern hound, and he has become one of my favorite blog writers. He doesn’t write posts every day, but when he writes something it immediately sets you to think. Just take a look at a few titles of teh posts he has written. Makes you wanna read them right away don’t they?

Dig into his archives and start following him. There is a lot more to be discovered there 😉

Michael Wesch

Michael is an assistant professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. He and his students have created several video’s that spread out like a firestorm over the Internet. He is a master in storytelling. What can I say, just watch his video’s if you haven’t already.


Storytellers are essential throughout times. Even in this digital age where every bit of information is available in digital form. Where all content is aggregated for you, ready to be consumed. But information isn’t really what inspires us.

The Matrix, Neo, Trinity and Morpheus

It’s a bit like Neo in the Matrix, its the question that drives us, that inspires us. I just showed you three people that inspire me. People that make me think and ask questions. People that don’t necessarily provide us with answers.

There are so many more of them out there. I am really curious to hear who is inspiring you. What are your favorite storytellers? Let me know.

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18 Responses to The question is more important than the answer

  1. Meryn Stol says:

    Well, if this is what you get your inspiration from, try reading “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben. At least it would be different to what you read now.

  2. @Meryn sounds like you’re a bit disappointed? I will look at the link you provided. I get my inspiration from a lot of sources, not just from the Internet. But on the Internet, these are a few of my favorites. Let me know the stuff you like best yourself too 😉

  3. Meryn Stol says:

    Yes, I think you should try to read broader, and also, something more in touch with current developments in the world.

    You’ve got one thing nailed down, social media. I’m following that closely too.

    But I suggest you look also into the issue of sustainability. Issues like peak oil, global warming, water scarcity, etc.

    In the end, social media will be used for mass collaboration, and we will surely need to collaborate in a whole different manner than we do now to solve these big problems.

    That’s also why I recommended ” The Future of Mangement” to you. You could also try “Cradle to Cradle”. I’m reading it now. Very good.

    This may bring you closer to asking the right questions.

  4. Meryn Stol says:

    Social media is not a question, it’s an answer.

  5. @meryn this blog is about social media. My personal interests go far beyond that. For example, I have read the cradle to cradle book already. Currently I’m reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks and The Archimedes Codex by Reviel Netz and William Noel. Nothing to do with Social media, but everything to do with human behavior 😉
    Anyone else have something they would like to share with us?

  6. Meryn Stol says:

    Allright, good to hear that.
    What do you think about Shirky’s writings?
    His recent one about Cognitive Surplus was really good.

  7. To drag it back to basics, the storytellers I admire most are the ones without a web or print presence, whose stories exist only in the utterance and yet have the power to captivate their listeners entirely – holding them spellbound until they choose to release us.
    The closest I’ve come to that in the online form has been a few rare occasions on second life.
    Novels can be captivating in their own right but it’s an individual captivation, live storytelling is a collective experience, yet intensely personal.

  8. Pingback: Inspiration, not aggregation? [updated] « Public sphere++

  9. I think the point that Alex made, and that this dialog is moving away from, is that stories are inspirational. Sure, non-fiction is deep, makes you think, and is important – but inspiring stories tell tales using the power of metaphor. They take a meme sequence in one dimension and translate it into another dimension. The effects are profound in that they jolt you into thinking differently – not just deeply. They make you come up with the question that has not yet been asked.

    As an aside: Have you notice that for those who are already steeped in a knowledge domain the best place to start out in a website is the FAQ ?

    Indeed world hunger has to be solved. Question here is: are social media and mass collaboration capable of doing anything more than raising awareness? How do we filter out the noise? Inspirational ideas start from story telling individuals, get refined in small groups and then start to spread. That is the real source of power.

    What we see as influential social media is merely the after effect of the individual inspiring the small group.

    (By the way – the Black Swan is an inspiring book)

  10. @srini excellent observation. Haven’t read the Black Swan, but I will look it up immediately. Thx 😉

  11. Meryn Stol says:

    I’m certainly convinced of the power of storytelling. I believe non-fictional stories are more powerful than fictional ones, because it’s certain that such a story could happen. Business books generally add even more value by providing generalizations and lessons learned.
    I don’t believe you can find that kind of quality writing online.

    I’ve got the Black Swan laying beside me, but haven’t read it yet.

    As for the power of collaborating online: We have seen Wikipedia and Linux emerge from nothing. I think we could certainly expect more projects like these. All that it takes is the right seed.

    Look at what MIT is working on:

  12. I liked the MIT video.

    So let’s merge the two ideas on top and call it Structured Storytelling. Inspiring moderators in forums get small groups of people to start creating the snippets of stories from comments in the forum. And out of the story telling a central issue can then get resolved. Call it an Inspired Solution!

    I also liked the related video

    It shows the Comment streams which act as input into the Issue resolution tool.

    What I did not like about the MIT demo was their weak Interaction tools – they should just take their core knowledge mapper and embed it into facebook or into facetplay (shameless plug).

    Then they could have focus on the core value.

  13. Meryn: “I believe non-fictional stories are more powerful than fictional ones, because it’s certain that such a story could happen.”

    Really? Why does the truth matter? Stories can teach, instruct, entertain and more importantly inspire, but fiction or not, they all have to have a truthful core. By that I mean some essence of believability, some resonance with the human condition. My feeling is that if they don’t have that then it’s not a story.

    Reminds me of The Man Who Planted Trees.

  14. manish says:

    inspiration > information any day…
    chk out this post

  15. Gordon says:

    If social media is the answer, what’s the question?
    If you’re lost, don’t keep pressing forward. Stop, turn around, and try to figure out where you missed a turn.

    All of the answers we’re looking for are available in our past.

    One of the fundimental missed turns underlies the assertion “innovation is the engine of properity”.

    By questioning the answer you discover you need to define prosperity. If your question is “how can I get rich?” the answer is fine. If your question is how can I make the world a better place?” the answer falls far short.

    The question is more important.

    It doesn’t matter what you read, looking for answers is death. Looking for questions has a good chance of wakeing you up.

  16. Gordon says:

    Sorry, engine of prosperity

  17. will says:

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Peter Ragnar right? Well to answer your question he’s who inspires me. I find that his views are more relevant and practical than anything ever learned in school. I’ve only taken about a year of college, but do all colleges really teach you how to exist in the most optimal ways possible, and also be intensely enjoying the experience as well. No, they don’t. Schools today are ill-equipped in my opinion-and I’m talking generally here, mind you- to prepare human beings in any regards to mental or physical excellency. Meanwhile, churches, or rather, religious institutions that contain the churches are responsible for more wars and therefore death than the secular wars. They also have people preparing for a reality that until the day has been unable to sustain itself as a concept as far a credible, well-scientifically-documented research gives fuck. Contrary to my apparent aggressiveness, I do believe unconditional love is the way. but currently am struggling to encompass and polish my own views so as to be able to contain them within the magical unicorn lens of love, and no I just happen to like unicorns, that doesn’t mean I’ve inserted and/or desired to insert a man’s penis in a consecutive fashion so as to bring said man to a climax. And no I am trying to sound cool because I am cool, and funny, and I don’t need to prove that on the internet, but for some reason and I don’t remember by which, but this blog came about after clicking a picture(pretty sure the matrix one) and I reluctantly read the first couple sentences. So perhaps we are synchronistically connected somehow and maybe one day we’ll ride unicorns together in a graceful meadow in the land of innocence and enchanting ponies on the outskirts of unicorn kingdom.

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