You teach the reader that he's way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you're dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you're the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us, in a way, that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need ... is seriously engaged art that can teach again that we're smart. And that's the stuff that TV and movies -- although they're great at certain things -- cannot give us. But that have to create the motivations for us to want to do the extra work, to get those other kinds of art.... Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don't want to pander or manipulate them. I mean, a good book teaches the reader how to read it.
Clay Shirky, of course, has written a great deal about the enormous intellectual and creative resources that are being opened up as we shift away from TV in Cognitive Surplus. But Wallace's point about motivations resonates particularly deeply with me as I consider my role -- and Brain Pickings' highest aspiration -- to motivate people to be interested in things they didn't know they were interested in until they are.
This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.