The impossible hamster & RSAnimate: thoughts on “nubs”


Yesterday, the New Economics Foundation released this video to support their report about the irreconcilability of the idea of sustained economic growth with the idea of sustainability itself,  Growth Isn’t Possible. It’s made by Leo Murray, one of the makers of The Age of Stupid and the short film  Wake Up Freak Out.

The Impossible Hamster is a clever way of drawing attention to an idea, using a short viral video. In some circles this would be called an agit-nub, nubs being “short videos that explain or bring an idea to life“.

In the last couple of years, nubs have increasingly become the means by which new ideas are spread around the web. They encapsulate how the web works; by making them embeddable, they become a freebie for other content producers. Spreading ideas and messages on the web is about reciprocity; you have to give in order to receive attention.

Nubs raise a few questions. Firstly, at the moment wit is still prized as much as quality, but will the increasing standards of advertising viral videos begin to crowd out the more low-fi productions like Leo Murray’s? Take a look at this ad about the persuasive technology of a musical staircase which turns out to be an advertisement by Volksvagen. Made to look low-fi by the adevertising agency DDB Stockholm, it became one of the most successful virals of last year. Advertisers are spending increasingly large sums producing these virals.

Secondly, if nubs are the repository for political messages, will we soon have “nub wars”? As somebody in the office pointed out the moment they saw The Impossible Hamster, a climate sceptic might have made a video of a hamster growing not only fat but clever enough to start building new worlds.

Thirdly, do they respresent a kind of Darwinism of ideas; if an idea is not reducible to a three minute nub will it become worthles?

Myself, I don’t think so. I think their mix of expression and intellect makes them an incredibly powerful new genre.

On the last point, the RSA’s own RSAnimate series shows that nubs don’t need to be reductionist. Take a look at Matthew Taylor’s Left Brain Right Brain which is just out this week:

Look out for new videos coming up on the new RSA Comment pages:

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology