Curiosity is the magic that inspires us to learn, to ask, to think and to invent. We are born curious, driven to make sense of things by finding patterns and making connections. Curiosity is behind every innovation, from arrowheads to iPads. It's what turns a "What if?" into a "That's how!"
The more you know, the better it gets, too. The genius of Leonardo, Buckminster Fuller, Steve Jobs and all polymaths is rooted in an ability apply insights from one discipline to others These are natural systems thinkers able to see the forest and the trees.
The Arc Project is about tapping into this innate drive to understand and learn. The approach is encyclopedic, open to any topic. Arcs take a multifaceted approach, exploring a topic from a variety of angles through a variety of digital media. They are designed to serve as a resource, a reference and a portal all rolled into one.
Each Arc includes three types of content:
It seems counterintuitive, but at a time when more information is available to more people though the touch of a keyboard or the swipe of a screen, it can be more difficult than ever to discover new areas of interest. Under the guise of convenience, personalization and the quest for ever more narrowly targeted ads, web browsers, social media sites and marketers are dicing and slicing data streams to the dizzying point where no two people experience the web in exactly the same way. An array of metrics from age, sex and address to browsing history, online purchases and the size and range of social media networks can determine what you see online and what deals may be offered.
Google's famous "filter bubble" is so ingrained that two people using the same very same keywords in a search can generate different lists of links. The past is indeed prologue.
Following Amazon's lead, e-tailers now routinely suggest add-on purchases: "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought." Amazon is taking things one step further with a patent on "anticipatory package shipping." Even before a customer realizes there is a need to buy something—anything—Amazon will have it ready to go.
As stunning as that may be, when humans fill in the blanks for algorithms rather than the other way around, the line between convenient and creepy can get disturbingly blurry.
The Arc Project is an effort to put humans back in the game by providing a way around the algorithmic wall: to find out about things that you—and every data-wielding marketer—didn't already know you had an interest in.
The Arc Project draws on many sources for inspiration, including a wonderfully quirky encyclopedia called "The Book of Knowledge" that was popular a century ago. My father had a set as a child and I have vivid memories of thumbing through his 1930s-era edition when I was a child. Remarkably, the entries were not alphabetical, although an index book was provided. Rather, articles segued into related articles, meandering from one idea to the next, tangents welcome. There was something truly great about not knowing what you'd learn about next when you turned the page.
Arc is also shaped by the digital present. The popularity of podcasts, for example, have completely reshaped broadcast radio. Not only is there vastly more choice of content, but also more choice in terms of when, where and how to listen. Broadcast content is designed to be experienced as it happens. Repackaging a broadcast as a podcast barely taps the potential of such a fundamentally different distribution channel. The Arc Project is about providing context. Although audio segments can be shared independently, the interviews are produced as parts of a greater whole (think "podio" instead of radio).
Arc is about getting beyond the surface of the digital ocean. Even the cleverest aggregation services such as Flipboard or Zite are trapped in the "now" by the news streams that feed them. Meanwhile, skillful use of computer algorithms perfect the "click bait" potential of content on sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy where popularity is the only metric that matters. Even more thoughtful aggregates such as Explore (billed as "A discovery engine for meaningful knowledge, fueled by cross-disciplinary curiosity") or Open Culture focus on individual links. There is a randomness to the content. Likewise, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are set up for sharing one piece of content at time and contributing to a kind of digital ADD. The Arc format is designed so that content can be shared as an aggregate or in parts. It provides a platform to see how work from the past relates to news of the present and discoveries yet to come.
Perhaps Arcs will be compiled into digital books: a series of volumes in an ever-expanding, gloriously idiosyncratic digital encyclopedia.
The past, it turns out, can be prologue in all sorts of ways.
— J. A. Ginsburg, editor