August 6, 2018

Using Humor to Connect and Teach

Category: Connected Learning
Baratunde Thurston and Joi Ito during their keynote at the 2018 Connected Learning Summit

“You can’t shape the world if no one is engaging with you. And humor is very effective in opening a channel of potential connection.” This was just one of many takeaways from the keynote Q&A between writer, comedian, and commentator, Baratunde Thurston, and the Director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito, at the inaugural Connected Learning Summit held August 1-3 at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

After being outed onstage for not being funny early in his comedic career, Thurston, a self described futurist, comedian, writer, and social activist, realized the need to connect with people before trying to get them to see his point of view. “One of the things I learned was that there is an order of operations to connecting with someone and communicating effectively with them, and it doesn’t start generally with your point. It starts with a more human emotional connection.”

“Laughter is evidence of common ground.” Thurston explained. “Jokes are a good way to test out if you are able to connect with someone.”

Thurston went on to acknowledge that humor alone is not always appropriate or enough. “I don’t think everything should be channeled through humor. I think humor is in a set of tools that is useful to accomplish something. There are other tools. Money is a tool. Organizing is a tool. Passion is a tool. Empathy is a tool. Connectivity is a tool… Sometimes you can make non-funny things funny. Sometimes that’s not enough to have an impact on the world the way we want, so we go another route.”

Baratunde concluded with an important reminder about our efforts toward reaching others and trying to fix society’s problems: “It is not any of our jobs alone to resolve the whole thing. If I am able to expand a little bit, that’s cool, but I don’t need to reach everyone.”

The keynote also touched on several other topics, including:

  • Different types of learners:
    • ‘The troublemakers were always the best students.’ – Ito (32:37).
  • The importance of librarians:
    • “Librarians are just like the best people in the world. They’re radical but they don’t seem it, so they’re like spies.” – Thurston (36:47).
  • Public education:
    • “I want to live in a world where we use our collective resources to create collective opportunities and public education is an important piece of that.” – Thurston (50:37).
  • The dangers of algorithms and predictions:
    • “Prediction is really unfair. Prediction takes power from poor people and gives it to authorities.” – Ito (56:37).

You can watch or listen to the complete keynote between Thurston and Ito below.

Banner photo by Mimi Ito.