You really should be watching PBS’ Idea Channel

Idea Channel -- William Gibson

In the interest of full disclosure, we will cop to the fact that today is a very slow news day. Normally that would make the remainder of the afternoon intensely boring, but instead of struggling to convince you readers that an otherwise inconsequential story is actually crucial information, we’re opting to instead introduce you to something cool that you may not be aware of.

Specifically, today’s focus is on a relatively recently launched YouTube channel from America’s Public Broadcasting Service dubbed the “Idea Channel.” Instead of regurgitating PBS’ oft-stuffy televisual content onto the ‘net or periodically posting kittens in vaguely science-related situations, the Idea Channel contains numerous vignettes that explore deceptively simple topics in a way that is both thought-provoking and cleverly crafted to appeal to the modern sensibilities and waning attention spans of today’s always-connected ‘net denizens.

To wit: At the bottom of this post we’ve embedded the Idea Channel’s latest offering, a video that asks the question “Is William Gibson a modern day oracle?” Gibson’s fans should already know where this is going: In the course of his literary career William Gibson has predicted, in great detail, an amazing number of technologies that we see as relatively commonplace today. Second Life, the modern Internet, reality TV, that hologram Tupac that performed at Coachella; you can find eerily prescient references to each of these ideas in Gibson’s work — and even more impressively Gibson has regularly managed to dream up these technologies more than a decade before flesh and blood humans can even think of making them a reality.

On the other hand, maybe seminal cyberpunk authors aren’t really up your alley. Maybe you’re more interested in video games. In that case have a look at the Idea Channel’s debut video which posits the idea that “Super Mario Bros. is the world’s greatest piece of surrealist art.” Or, say your interests run toward Internet culture itself. In that case, we’d highly recommend this clip which explores the possibility that modern, online memetic humor might be creating a “cultural singularity.”

The bottom line is that PBS’ Idea Channel is not just another diversion dropped into a sea of momentarily interesting Internet offerings all designed to help a person kill time. Instead, it provides simple, yet profound ideas that should inspire further thought and discussion amongst its viewers. Even more impressively however, is how well PBS has adapted this content to its prospective audience. While watching these clips keep in mind that this footage comes from the same group that is best known for highbrow, culturally significant TV shows like Downton Abbey. The contrast between these clips and the aforementioned BBC drama is undeniable, but it should be seen as a endorsement of the clever people working behind the scenes at PBS that the broadcaster is able to seamlessly switch gears between historical melodrama and a video that wonders if LOLcats are an important modern artform. Propers to PBS for demonstrating such range, and most crucially, for keeping us all entertained on a dull Friday afternoon.


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