Posts tagged technology
Neuro-Huddle 2015: Toward an Ethical Fandom

Is there such as thing as brain-friendly football? Or even brain-neutral football?

According to those who gathered for the first annual Neuro-Huddle, the answer is “not yet,” and maybe “not ever.” I was honored to join a stellar group of neurologists, former players and coaches, filmmakers, fans, and family members of players impacted by repetitive head injuries in Honolulu last week to discuss the latest research, newest technologies, and dominant culture surrounding football— and their impact on players’ health and well being. It had both the intimacy of a family gathering of people whose lives have been changed by football-related head injuries, and a sobering scientific proceeding of the latest neurological science of CTE and concussions.


The more we find out about head injuries caused by football, the worse the story gets, and the greater the fear becomes that we might be seeing just the front edge of a coming tsunami of health issues, lawsuits, and threats to the game as its played today. It makes intuitive sense that repetitive concussions for professional athletes would do long-term harm, but research showing so-called sub-concussive impacts (of which some players take in the hundreds or thousands every season) could also have similar detrimental outcomes is frightening. And, moreover, new research is showing that youth players are sustaining long-term brain injuries even if they don’t play into adulthood. Once you scratch the surface of this research, and once you see the damage it does to individuals and families, it is hard to fathom how large this issue will become in the future. The NFL cannot deflect, delay, or ignore this issue, nor can parents with kids who want to play football.

I’ve studied and written extensively on the new political formation and power dynamics that will be generated by neuroscience and neurotechnology. I can think of no larger, more high profile neuropolitical issue in the coming years than sports head injuries, and in particular in American football. How we as a society deal with this key issue will be informative for how we might deal with other neuropolitical challenges in the future. Brain issues are both civilization-scale and very, very personal.

I played football as a kid, and I have two sons. I have become an avid reader of research on youth head injuries and now, and as a hypochondriac, watch out for my own cognitive decline. My role at the Neuro-Huddle was to represent alternative futures, but also that of current and future generations of fans. I began my talk by demonstrating my fan bona fides by showing the ecstatic reactions to the greatest ending in sports history by my fellow Auburn Tigers fans. The reactions became a highlight reel of unadulterated joy— a joy that may be lost or squandered if we don’t correct some of the wrongs that are happening in the sport.

Looking at a wide swath of possibility space, I next presented four alternative pathways that the sport of football might take—represented by four original artifacts from these futures. [1] [posted below, and in these slides]. These ranged from a totally virtual form of football played on a moveable track, to a hyper-vigilant impact management system, to a cyborgian vision wherein players don’t buy better helmets, but grow padding and repair chemicals inside their own heads.

These provocations are an invitation to think more deeply and honestly about what it means to play, watch, and otherwise support this game. This is a very personal question and journey for me. It comes down to this:

  • If I won’t let my kids play football, why am I seemingly ok with watching someone else’s kid take such life-altering risks for my entertainment?
  • What does it mean to be an ethical fan? What does it look like?

These are the questions and dilemmas that I am trying to face directly. I believe in the coming years more and more sports fans will be confronting and wrestling with these dilemmas as well. 

I love football, I love sharing experiences with other fans, I love talking about the games for months and years (I will relive the 2013 Iron Bowl Kick Six forever). Football is “just a game,” but it is a game that binds generations of people together through memories, shared emotions, and stories. The dilemmas we face as fans about head injuries, player health, and a host of other social, economic, and political issues cannot be dismissed. If we can’t draw some line, even to ourselves, about where our limits are and how we can become ethical fans then we will lose all those stories, all those connections, all those highs and lows that exalt us or that we willingly suffer through.

It is an increasingly plausible scenario that we might lose the game itself. If we don’t take some kind of stand, or force some systemic positive action, not only will we lose the game, we’ll deserve to lose it.

I will be exploring the meaning and practice of being an ethical fan over the coming months, with the goal of developing an “Ethical Fan Pledge.” I’ll be doing so with friends at the John Wilbur Legacy Foundation and others in the coming months. Please email me at if you’re interested in joining us in the conversation.

Enjoy the Super Bowl this weekend, then let’s get to work to save the game, and the players, we love.


[1] I had the pleasure of working with four fantastic designers and thinkers on these artifacts. Big thanks to Lloyd Walker (concept creation, development and sketching),’s Josiah Pak (Super Bowl lxix) and Virginia Honig (Brain Bank System), and David Horridge (Solidifi). 

Pay-It-Forward: There's An App for That

We're used to hearing "there's an app for that." There are apps to track, facilitate, gamify, and communicate almost anything you can think of— shopping for groceries or tracking your sleep habits, for instance… but how about kindness? What does it look like to track kindness in the world? Well, there's an app for that: KindWorks

KindWorks is "the world's most powerful pay-it-forward platform," where people everywhere can share their good deeds and inspire others to perform their own acts of kindness. When a global community adopts pay-it-forward as their philosophy, connecting with and helping others becomes a higher priority— and we see a happier and stronger global community.

That's an idea we can get behind. We sat down with founder George Blobe to learn more about KindWorks and its unique, ambitious mission. See below! 

What inspired you to start KindWorks?
KindWorks is the culmination of many moments over the course of my life where I questioned my purpose and the true meaning of existence. In so many ways, I’ve found myself in the same place, wanting to create something of meaning that was bigger than myself.  I think we all find ourselves in that place at one time or another, and each time I left reflecting on my tiny existence and my connection to the world around me.

The romantic idea that my small gesture could ignite much bigger change was appealing. As I looked around and saw our current population starved for true connection and a sense of community centered around goodness and happiness, I knew without a doubt there was a need for KindWorks. In today’s world, with more ways to communicate than ever before, we somehow find ourselves feeling more alone. And while the digital aspect of our disconnectedness is new, the idea of paying it forward spans history. You look at other pay-it-forward movies and books, reaching as far back as the origin of the Les Mis story, and you realize that the life we live today is a direct result of earlier generations sacrificing what they had for the betterment of those to come. As a parent, this is of course, my wish for my children as well.

So one day, my family “paid-it-forward” on a whim. We were having dinner in one of our favorite restaurants and decided to pick up the tab for the next group to come in. And while I anticipated that this would feel rewarding, what I didn’t expect was the overwhelming feeling of unity that came from it. The entire restaurant was energized by this one small act. In a world that often feels cloaked in negativity, it was great to be reminded of the power of good.

Why should a pay-it-forward system like this take place online instead of in-person?
The online version is a means to an end. The in-person stuff is what truly that matters. In this day and age, it is natural for people to look online for their sense of community. There is a comfort level to this for our population. However, it’s what people will see when they login that’s moving them to act. The online environment is there to inspire. It helps people see that kindness is alive and well in the world, and they can be a part of it in a real way. That is the purpose of the online system… to inspire real life action. And online can inspire it on a scale that can’t be achieved without technology. The very technology that often robs our communities of oneness can ignite positive change when harnessed and used for good. So while pay-it-forward systems have often gone unnoticed or stayed on a local level, they can catch fire and expand in all directions through the online system.

Why is it important for people to pay-it-forward? What has happened in society to make this a necessary exchange?  
Paying-it-forward is at the core of being human. As humans, we need to know that we are part of a community and intrinsically want to give back to that community because we know it will strengthen us as a whole. This precious balance has been the basis of human connection for most of our existence. But at certain points in history, the pendulum has swung dramatically causing an imbalance in our core belief system as a society. Take the industrial revolution. At some point, we lost our way and started believing money could replace relationships. We treated everything as a commodity. Since the crash of the economy, we’re starting to see a shift in this mindset that will hopefully lead to a rebalancing of our societal beliefs. This pay-it-forward system is one way to help us start seeing that connections with others can involve more than money and lead to higher rewards.

What is your vision for the future of the product?
The immediate focuses for this product are improving our app and spreading awareness. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get the app to be as robust as we want it. We also want to get it into the hands of organizations who work to drive change. Our goal is to inspire others to show kindness in their own creative ways and to show how their acts connect them to one another.

Our hope is that future version will make the online piece more capable of connection and story sharing, and there are plans to create a completely offline experience as well. 

What kind of impact do you hope to see this app have on society? 
I hope we can help people see each other as the answer to each other. To help them realize that relying on one another can strengthen our community and remind them that they are not alone. And mostly, that while we are grateful for the positive results of our economic system, the payback for kindness cannot be equaled. That a selfless exchange of love and kindness is the only way to truly fix the world. 

If you haven't already, check out KindWorks here or download the app and see how KindWorks is already shaping a happier, more connected world. 

Renaeapp, Giving Back, technology