‘Presence’ and the Technology-Academic-Media Nexus

Recommending a culture shifting book, while also questioning what ideas are being left out of the conversation.

January 25, 2016

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Published in December of 2015.

When we read completely wonderful books like Amy Cuddy’s Presence it is tempting (and perhaps justified) to celebrate the emerging techno-academic thought-leadership nexus.

Presence is a book that was made possible by the smart, powerful, and actionable TED Talk that Cuddy gave in 2012. This talk, which has been viewed over 30 million times (including last night with my high school junior daughter), is a master class in how to make scientific ideas relevant and understandable in 21 minutes or less.  

Dr. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, bases her recommendations on body language and social interaction strategies on findings from her own (rigorous and peer reviewed) research.

I read Presence as a audiobook, one that Cuddy beautifully narrates. The only thing missing from my Presence academic, media, and technology experience is the lack of a Whispersync version - the dynamic syncing of the audiobook with the digital book.

In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the emerging military-industrial complex in his farewell address to the country.  

In 2016, I'm here to warn us against the emerging technology-academic-media nexus that largely determines the ideas that gain currency in our culture.

What is more powerful, after all, than the combination of a brilliant academic (Cuddy), a global media platform (TED Talks), and a set of enabling technologies that enable the ideas to spread (the Internet and digital / audiobooks)?

Personally, I am fully under the spell that Presence (the book), Cuddy (the academic), and TED/Audible (media and technology) is casting.

Since finishing Presence I have extolled the virtues of this amazing book to colleagues, friends, family members, and strangers. 

Cuddy’s genius is her ability to connect the science with the personal.  Through small changes in how we stand, sit, and move we can make big changes in how we perceive ourselves - and in how other’s perceive us. 

Presence gives us the backstory and the full elucidation of all the research that inspired Cuddy’s TED Talk.  Behind a great 21 minute talk there is an even greater story of scientific discovery and application.

The growth industry of academic books written for a general audience - books that are then made available affordably through digital publishing - is maybe the media story of our time. 

Forget the golden age of TV that everyone keeps talking about, we are in the golden age of books. 

How lucky are we that academics like Cuddy can share good research with such a wide audience?

Is there a downside to propulsive power of ideas made possible by the technology-media-academic nexus?

In the case of Presence, Cuddy’s aim is to provide a method of gaining some measure of personal power for those lacking in social power.  Who can argue with that goal, save a nagging concern that the business of social science should be at least as much about investigating social structures as it is about understanding the impact of personal choices.

A larger concern about the heady confluence of academia, TED Talks, and Amazon enabled digital publishing and distribution is who is left out?  What voices are not making it to the biggest stages?

Cuddy’s ideas in Presence will, and should, should claim significant real estate in our cultural geography. 

What ideas are being left outside of our mental borders?

What are you reading?



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