Ze Frank has recently been getting more didactic in his Show, but in a good way. He does a short blurb on Friday about the democratization of ugly. He’s running a contest for the ugliest MySpace page, which, as some of the commenters note, may be a bit redundant. But it does give him an excuse to expound on the history of taste, in bite-size form, in an interesting way. He did something similar with gerrymandering in an earlier show.
I’ve been thinking a bit about new forms of learning on the Internets lately, and this strikes me as an interesting example because it is really pretty far toward the traditional institutional learning model, though it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It includes a lecture–though elements clearly mark it as part of a different genre. It is, in some ways I suspect, a particularly effective lecturing style for new media saturated students (“You’re soaking in it!”). I can’t imagine watching, or wanting to watch, an hour-long “The Show.” Nor can I imagine the prep time it would require to produce. But it may be that this is paradoxically one of the areas in which massification still has a run. I doubt Frank would continue to produce the videos if he had an audience of a few dozen, but a large audience in some way justifies what must be a substantial investment in time.
Beyond the lecture, he also now has assignments. OK, perhaps the audience considers the ongoing chess game, the earth sandwich, and the contest for the ugliest MySpace page to be games, but many of my assignments are structured that way too. It really can be homework and still be fun to do. Designing the ugliest page possible has been a mainstay assignment in my classes where we do web production, as well as in graphic communication (make the worst infographic possible), for many years. So let’s get this down: here is someone producing a daily talk, which is viewed by a large group, who ask questions and comment on the talk, and who are periodically given assignments.
In sum, while Ze may claim that he is “thinking so you don’t have to,” I am beginning to suspect he might just be joking.