Economics, Government, and Society


  • Are Bitcoins and Unusual Hats the Future of Currency? | PBS Idea Channel

    If a community agrees on the value of something, then that thing can become a currency to exchange for other goods. Just like American dollar bills (or euros, yen, or any other currency), or... bitcoins. Bitcoins are an online currency worth over $200,000,000, and though they are just 1s and 0s, some think that this is the future of money. Watch the episode and tell us what you think!

    Grades: 9-12
  • Could Sports Ever Replace War? | PBS Idea Channel

    The recent excitement over the World Cup made us think: could a competitive sporting event ever replace war? It's easy to see the similarity between games and warfare: both often involve strategy, cunning, and even (sometimes especially) national pride. Plus, sports are not completely without value in terms of international relations. History has shown that politically charged soccer games and "ping-pong policy" can impact diplomacy. But, could a match substitute true combat, and the results honored as definitive during global discord? Watch the episode to find out, and tell us what you think!

    Grades: 9-12
  • Do Upvotes Show Democracy's Flaws? | PBS Idea Channel

    Are upvotes democratic? The idea behind forums like reddit that use upvoting as 'community sourced decisions' is that compelling, unique posts will float to the top, and weak ones will sink to the bottom. Reddit is a democracy - much like The United States! However, in both cases, the notion of true democracy may well be an illusion. Does seeing upvotes promote more upvotes? Does provocative content beget more provocative content? Is all content created equal? Watch this episode to find out, and tell us what you think!

    Grades: 9-12
  • Does Animal Crossing Promote Otaku Citizenship? | PBS Idea Channel

    Like us, you may not have initially realized the significance of Animal Crossing. Sure, it's a simple game for kids, with cute animals and bright colors. But, could it be true that it inspires otaku citizenship?! Otaku refers to obsessive interest and collection, usually associated with Japanese culture, but it can apply to anything. In Animal Crossing, as mayor of your town, success is defined by maintaining friendships with your townspeople and collecting natural resources to cultivate the perfect town. Is this promoting otaku? 

    Grades: 9-12
  • How Objective Is the Law? (Serial: Part 1) | PBS Idea Channel

    Serial, the hugely popular podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig, has prompted much discussion and debate about the murder case of Hae Min Lee and conviction of Adnan Syed, who is currently serving a life sentence. Here at Idea Channel, besides our fascination with the case, the podcast caused us to start thinking about objectivism. There is a widely held expectation that the law and journalism must be objective. But is that really possible? And does Serial show us that impossibility? 

    Grades: 9-12
  • How To Create Responsible Social Criticism | PBS Idea Channel

    The recent matter of Sam Pepper's "social experiment" videos has inspired a lot of discussion and debate. Here at Idea Channel, we thought we'd take this opportunity to talk not specifically about Sam Pepper, but about media in general and its ability to comment on serious social issues. If Sam Pepper's video successfully critiqued assault, then why all the uproar? If media can be potentially hurtful, then how can we best comment on social issues? 

    Grades: 9-12
  • How Will The Animated GIF Affect The Presidential Election? | PBS Idea Channel

    The animated GIF has had a long and fascinating history, but the GIF took a giant leap forward this year when it became part of the 2012 Presidential Election! This election season, GIFs of Obama, Romney, Biden and Ryan, populated not only Tumblr and Buzzfeed, but also media heavyweights like The Atlantic, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal. It became the perfect vehicle to capture a reaction, a gaffe or hilarious election moment and stream it ad infinitum. Will the Graphics Interchange Format swing the election for Obama or Romney? Probably not, but it's a pretty bold step for our pal the GIF!

    Grades: 9-12
  • Net Neutrality: Is the Internet a Public Utility? | PBS Idea Channel

    Is the internet a public utility? No. Should it be? That's an interesting question. The internet, as we've said many a time, is a glorious series of tubes, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sell us access to those tubes. But the FCC is considering a new two tiered system, in which some companies could pay ISPs for faster delivery. This topic (aka net neutrality) has made us think about the important role the internet plays in our lives. Is internet access so important that it should be classified as a public utility or common carrier, like water & electricity, or public buses and subways? 

    Grades: 9-12
  • Should Journalism Be Objective? (Serial: Part 2) | PBS Idea Channel

    Welcome to part two of our discussion of Serial, the insanely popular podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. In part one, we discussed objectivity in the law. This week, we're turning our attention to objectivity in journalism. Journalists have been tasked with objective reporting for decades, but is that a realistic goal? Can any journalist be truly objective? Is Serial an example of failed objectivism, or is it a reminder of its impossibility?

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Uncertain Connection Between North Korea and Hackers | PBS Idea Channel

    The recent release of The Interview could have been a movie unto itself, involving hackers, a secretive foreign nation, an inept corporation and the United States government. After the Sony leaks, the FBI said North Korean hackers were to blame, and Obama put sanctions into place in response. Foreign policy was affected by this cyberattack! But, was North Korea really the one responsible? And if it wasn't behind the leak, and we can't identify our attackers, what does that mean for the 21st century? Watch the episode to find out more, and tell us what you think!

    Grades: 9-12
  • What Does the Russian Meteorite Tell Us About Surveillance Culture? | PBS Idea Channel

    In February, 2013 a meteorite burst into flames in the atmosphere above Russia. This wasn't the first time and it won't be the last, but it is the first time such an event was captured by SO MANY CAMERAS! The incredible number of views and angles filmed was made possible by Russia's bizarre driving culture and the MILLIONS of car dash cams installed all over the country. But besides providing the world with some hilarious, frightening, and amazing footage, the dash cams also make us think about surveillance, and what role it will play in the future.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Will Minecraft and Makerbot Usher in the Post-Scarcity Economy? | PBS Idea Channel

    From the Jetsons to Cory Doctorow, science fiction writers of all stripes have imagined a world where any object could be instantly created. Modern economics on the other hand, is built on the principle of competition for scarce resources. And while it may not seem like a video game and printer could alter this economic reality, we beg to differ. Minecraft's creative mode is the perfect vehicle for understanding a Post-Scarcity world: a place where resources are permanently available and constantly regenerated. It shows that with unlimited resources, people end up creating amazing digital structures! Of course, a world of infinitely available resources seems pretty fantastical until you consider the Makerbot and the future of 3D printing. The Makerbot is an at home device that allow you to print real, three dimensional objects, meaning a Minecraftian future where you can print anything you want at anytime might not be that far away. Watch the episode, and tell us what you think!

    Grades: 9-12

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