It often seems like we live in a mind-boggling and confusing world. In this digital era of information overload and accelerating change, it can be difficult to grasp the forces that are reshaping the world around us.
Times of great changes are also times of great anxiety. The future feels uncertain because we can’t logically predict it from our past experiences. That’s the paradox of today’s digital age: many of us enjoy an exceedingly high material standard of living but still struggle with a nagging sense of anxiety.
If you want to better understand the trends that are reshaping our world — for better and for worse — I have found that documentaries are an excellent catalyst for developing a better understanding of the often unseen forces that shape our political, economic, and social spheres.
If you want to learn about the state of the human condition in the 21st century, I think these thought-provoking documentaries are a good place to start.
1. The Corporation
The fascinating story of the meteoric rise of the modern business corporation and how it has come to supersede the authority of governments and become one of the dominant institutions in the world.
2. Everything Is A Remix
The best documentary that I’ve seen on the re-combinatory nature of creativity and how the digital age is providing new opportunities to explore human creativity and imagination.
3. Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds
A visually-stunning and awe-inspiring documentary series that explores the interconnection of ancient religions, meditation, and the nature of the cosmos.
BBC documentarian Adam Curtis’ latest film argues that since the 1970s, governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up on the complex “real world” and instead built a simple “fake world” that is run by corporations and kept stable by politicians.
5. The Brain That Changes Itself
The fascinating story of Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge’s research into neuroplasticity and how contrary to previously widely held beliefs, the structure of the human brain exists in a perpetual state of change.
6. The Four Horsemen
The story of the American Empire in the context of thousands of years of financial history. This documentary film explores the long-term implications of runaway government spending and what happens when debts become sustainable.
7. The Century of the Self
Another excellent documentary series by BBC documentarian Adam Curtis. It tells the story of how American corporations discovered they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.
8. Us Now
A thought-provoking documentary that examines the power of mass collaboration, the decline of the power of nation-states, and the new organizational possibilities created by the Internet.
This documentary explores the ancient history of humanity and why so much of the modern world destroys the natural world and goes against our evolutionary biology.
10. Status Anxiety
Have you ever wondered why there is so much addiction and mental illness in a country as wealthy as the United States? British philosopher Alain de Bottom argues that it’s largely due to status anxiety.
Which of these documentaries did you find the most thought-provoking? Share your thoughts in the comments.