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  • This is a map of New York State

  • that was made in 1937 by the General Drafting Company.

  • It's an extremely famous map among cartography nerds,

  • because down here at the bottom of the Catskill Mountains,

  • there is a little town called Roscoe --

  • actually, this will go easier if I just put it up here --

  • There's Roscoe, and then right above Roscoe is Rockland, New York,

  • and then right above that is the tiny town of Agloe, New York.

  • Agloe, New York, is very famous to cartographers,

  • because it's a paper town.

  • It's also known as a copyright trap.

  • Mapmakers -- because my map of New York and your map of New York

  • are going to look very similar, on account of the shape of New York --

  • often, mapmakers will insert fake places onto their maps,

  • in order to protect their copyright.

  • Because then, if my fake place shows up on your map,

  • I can be well and truly sure that you have robbed me.

  • Agloe is a scrabblization of the initials of the two guys who made this map,

  • Ernest Alpers and Otto [G.] Lindberg,

  • and they released this map in 1937.

  • Decades later, Rand McNally releases a map

  • with Agloe, New York, on it, at the same exact intersection

  • of two dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

  • Well, you can imagine the delight over at General Drafting.

  • They immediately call Rand McNally, and they say,

  • "We've caught you! We made Agloe, New York, up.

  • It is a fake place. It's a paper town.

  • We're going to sue your pants off!"

  • And Rand McNally says, "No, no, no, no, Agloe is real."

  • Because people kept going to that intersection of two dirt roads --

  • (Laughter)

  • in the middle of nowhere, expecting there to be a place called Agloe --

  • someone built a place called Agloe, New York.

  • (Laughter)

  • It had a gas station, a general store, two houses at its peak.

  • (Laughter)

  • And this is of course a completely irresistible metaphor to a novelist,

  • because we would all like to believe that the stuff that we write down on paper

  • can change the actual world in which we're actually living,

  • which is why my third book is called "Paper Towns".

  • But what interests me ultimately more than the medium in which this happened,

  • is the phenomenon itself.

  • It's easy enough to say that the world shapes our maps of the world, right?

  • Like the overall shape of the world is obviously going to affect our maps.

  • But what I find a lot more interesting is the way

  • that the manner in which we map the world changes the world.

  • Because the world would truly be a different place if North were down.

  • And the world would be a truly different place

  • if Alaska and Russia weren't on opposite sides of the map.

  • And the world would be a different place

  • if we projected Europe to show it in its actual size.

  • The world is changed by our maps of the world.

  • The way that we choose -- sort of, our personal cartographic enterprise,

  • also shapes the map of our lives,

  • and that in turn shapes our lives.

  • I believe that what we map changes the life we lead.

  • And I don't mean that in some, like, secret-y Oprah's Angels network, like,

  • you-can-think-your-way- out-of-cancer sense.

  • But I do believe that while maps don't show you where you will go in your life,

  • they show you where you might go.

  • You very rarely go to a place that isn't on your personal map.

  • So I was a really terrible student when I was a kid.

  • My GPA was consistently in the low 2s.

  • And I think the reason that I was such a terrible student

  • is that I felt like education was just a series of hurdles

  • that had been erected before me,

  • and I had to jump over in order to achieve adulthood.

  • And I didn't really want to jump over these hurdles,

  • because they seemed completely arbitrary, so I often wouldn't,

  • and then people would threaten me, you know,

  • they'd threaten me with this "going on [my] permanent record,"

  • or "You'll never get a good job."

  • I didn't want a good job!

  • As far as I could tell at eleven or twelve years old,

  • like, people with good jobs woke up very early in the morning,

  • (Laughter)

  • and the men who had good jobs, one of the first things they did

  • was tie a strangulation item of clothing around their necks.

  • They literally put nooses on themselves,

  • and then they went off to their jobs, whatever they were.

  • That's not a recipe for a happy life.

  • These people -- in my, symbol-obsessed, twelve year-old imagination --

  • these people who are strangling themselves

  • as one of the first things they do each morning,

  • they can't possibly be happy.

  • Why would I want to jump over all of these hurdles

  • and have that be the end?

  • That's a terrible end!

  • And then, when I was in tenth grade, I went to this school,

  • Indian Springs School, a small boarding school,

  • outside of Birmingham, Alabama.

  • And all at once I became a learner.

  • And I became a learner, because I found myself

  • in a community of learners.

  • I found myself surrounded by people

  • who celebrated intellectualism and engagement,

  • and who thought that my ironic oh-so-cool disengagement

  • wasn't clever, or funny,

  • but, like, it was a simple and unspectacular response

  • to very complicated and compelling problems.

  • And so I started to learn, because learning was cool.

  • I learned that some infinite sets are bigger than other infinite sets,

  • and I learned that iambic pentameter is and why it sounds so good to human ears.

  • I learned that the Civil War was a nationalizing conflict,

  • I learned some physics,

  • I learned that correlation shouldn't be confused with causation --

  • all of these things, by the way,

  • enriched my life on a literally daily basis.

  • And it's true that I don't use most of them for my "job,"

  • but that's not what it's about for me.

  • It's about cartography.

  • What is the process of cartography?

  • It's, you know, sailing upon some land, and thinking,

  • "I think I'll draw that bit of land,"

  • and then wondering, "Maybe there's some more land to draw."

  • And that's when learning really began for me.

  • It's true that I had teachers that didn't give up on me,

  • and I was very fortunate to have those teachers,

  • because I often gave them cause to think there was no reason to invest in me.

  • But a lot of the learning that I did in high school

  • wasn't about what happened inside the classroom,

  • it was about what happened outside of the classroom.

  • For instance, I can tell you

  • that "There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons --

  • That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes --"

  • not because I memorized Emily Dickinson in school

  • when I was in high school,

  • but because there was a girl when I was in high school,

  • and her name was Amanda, and I had a crush on her,

  • and she liked Emily Dickinson poetry.

  • The reason I can tell you what opportunity cost is,

  • is because one day when I was playing Super Mario Kart on my couch,

  • my friend Emmet walked in, and he said,

  • "How long have you been playing Super Mario Kart?"

  • And I said, "I don't know, like, six hours?" and he said,

  • "Do you realize that if you'd worked at Baskin-Robbins those six hours,

  • you could have made 30 dollars, so in some ways,

  • you just paid thirty dollars to play Super Mario Kart."

  • And I was, like, "I'll take that deal."

  • (Laughter)

  • But I learned what opportunity cost is.

  • And along the way, the map of my life got better.

  • It got bigger; it contained more places.

  • There were more things that might happen,

  • more futures I might have.

  • It wasn't a formal, organized learning process,

  • and I'm happy to admit that.

  • It was spotty, it was inconsistent, there was a lot I didn't know.

  • I might know, you know, Cantor's idea

  • that some infinite sets are larger than other infinite sets,

  • but I didn't really understand the calculus behind that idea.

  • I might know the idea of opportunity cost,

  • but I didn't know the law of diminishing returns.

  • But the great thing about imagining learning as cartography,

  • instead of imagining it as arbitrary hurdles

  • that you have to jump over,

  • is that you see a bit of coastline, and that makes you want to see more.

  • And so now I do know at least some of the calculus

  • that underlies all of that stuff.

  • So, I had one learning community

  • in high school, then I went to another for college,

  • and then I went to another,

  • when I started working at a magazine called "Booklist,"

  • where I was an assistant, surrounded by astonishingly well-read people.

  • And then I wrote a book.

  • And like all authors dream of doing,

  • I promptly quit my job.

  • (Laughter)

  • And for the first time since high school,

  • I found myself without a learning community, and it was miserable.

  • I hated it.

  • I read many, many books during this two-year period.

  • I read books about Stalin,

  • and books about how the Uzbek people came to identify as Muslims,

  • and I read books about how to make atomic bombs,

  • but it just felt like I was creating my own hurdles,

  • and then jumping over them myself, instead of feeling the excitement

  • of being part of a community of learners, a community of people

  • who are engaged together in the cartographic enterprise

  • of trying to better understand and map the world around us.

  • And then, in 2006, I met that guy.

  • His name is Ze Frank.

  • I didn't actually meet him, just on the Internet.

  • Ze Frank was running, at the time, a show called "The Show with Ze Frank,"

  • and I discovered the show,

  • and that was my way back into being a community learner again.

  • Here's Ze talking about Las Vegas:

  • (Video) Ze Frank: Las Vegas was built in the middle of a huge, hot desert.

  • Almost everything here was brought from somewhere else --

  • the sort of rocks, the trees, the waterfalls.

  • These fish are almost as out of place as my pig that flew.

  • Contrasted to the scorching desert that surrounds this place,

  • so are these people.

  • Things from all over the world have been rebuilt here, away from their histories,

  • and away from the people that experience them differently.

  • Sometimes improvements were made -- even the Sphinx got a nose job.

  • Here, there's no reason to feel like you're missing anything.

  • This New York means the same to me as it does to everyone else.

  • Everything is out of context, and that means context allows for everything:

  • Self Parking, Events Center, Shark Reef.

  • This fabrication of place could be one of the world's greatest achievements,

  • because no one belongs here; everyone does.

  • As I walked around this morning, I noticed most of the buildings

  • were huge mirrors reflecting the sun back into the desert.

  • But unlike most mirrors,

  • which present you with an outside view of yourself embedded in a place,

  • these mirrors come back empty.

  • John Green: Makes me nostalgic for the days

  • when you could see the pixels in online video.

  • (Laughter)

  • Ze isn't just a great public intellectual, he's also a brilliant community builder,

  • and the community of people that built up around these videos

  • was in many ways a community of learners.

  • So we played Ze Frank at chess collaboratively, and we beat him.

  • We organized ourselves to take a young man on a road trip across the United States.

  • We turned the Earth into a sandwich,

  • by having one person hold a piece of bread at one point on the Earth,

  • and on the exact opposite point of the Earth,

  • have another person holding a piece of bread.

  • I realize that these are silly ideas, but they are also "learny" ideas,

  • and that was what was so exciting to me,

  • and if you go online, you can find communities like this all over the place.

  • Follow the calculus tag on Tumblr,

  • and yes, you will see people complaining about calculus,

  • but you'll also see people re-blogging those complaints,

  • making the argument that calculus is interesting and beautiful,

  • and here's a way in to thinking about the problem that you find unsolvable.

  • You can go to places like Reddit, and find sub-Reddits,

  • like "Ask a Historian" or "Ask Science,"

  • where you can ask people who are in these fields

  • a wide range of questions,

  • from very serious ones to very silly ones.

  • But to me, the most interesting communities of learners

  • that are growing up on the Internet right now are on YouTube,

  • and admittedly, I am biased.

  • But I think in a lot of ways, the YouTube page resembles a classroom.

  • Look for instance at "Minute Physics,"

  • a guy who's teaching the world about physics:

  • (Video) Let's cut to the chase.

  • As of July 4, 2012, the Higgs boson is the last fundamental piece

  • of the standard model of particle physics to be discovered experimentally.

  • But, you might ask, why was the Higgs boson

  • included in the standard model,

  • alongside well-known particles like electrons and photons and quarks,

  • if it hadn't been discovered back then in the 1970s?

  • Good question. There are two main reasons.

  • First, just like the electron is an excitation in the electron field,

  • the Higgs boson is simply a particle which is an excitation