About

My name is Daniel Poynter. I grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Purdue University after studying philosophy. Since then I’ve lived, worked, and studied in:

  • Washington DC
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Boston, MA
  • Tel Aviv, Israel and
  • Jerusalem, Israel

Why all of the moving around? One project I created required it. Six Degrees of Awesome enabled me to interview  some of the most inspiring leaders in the U.S.

For another project, the Digital Literacy Contest, I lead workshops at universities throughout North America at places like Brown, Cornell, and Stanford.

Perhaps I’m most excited, however, about Karma Cards. It’s an experiment where people can follow acts of kindness as they are paid forward around their city. I still treasure one letter I received in particular:

“[My mom came home] really excited because she was at the drive-thru earlier that day and when she pulled up to pay the cashier said the person in the car in front of her payed for her meal and gave her one of your cards.

It was a really little thing that took like no effort and probably only cost this person a couple of dollars, but it completely made my mom’s day.

The fact that some random stranger did a nice thing, even if it was just something small, for someone they didn’t know at all really struck both my mom and I as something pretty awesome. It sometimes seems these days that we’re all on our own and if you don’t know someone then whatever is going on with them isn’t really your problem, but these cards kinda show you that people don’t have to act that way and they can still be there for each other.

Those were three  examples of my experiments at the intersection of technology, education, and art. Here’s a fuller list:

Six Degrees of Awesome

Revitalize and broaden humanity’s vision

Collective of Installation Artists

Club of 150+ students to alter public space

Nonsense Worshipping Flash Mob

’nuff said

Balloon Tower

Trigger awe by pointing to space

1,100 Sticks of Sidewalk Chalk

Encourage playful expression

Karma Cards

Bring out the best in us

Technology Wellness 

What is health in the internet age?

Digital Literacy Contest

Educational technology startup

Intellectual File

20 years of highly organized self-directed study

Ultra Secret Project

Sowing mystery in cities around the world

 


Six Degrees of Awesome

Norris Henderson was jailed for 27 years in New Orleans until DNA evidence proved his innocence. Today he helps other formerly incarcerated persons (1) reintegrate into society through job placement as well as (2) lobby for reform of the Louisiana prison system.

A series of interviews — using a unique method — to learn from some of the most inspiring leaders in the U.S.

I started interviewing a friend in Indianapolis, IN. We discussed everything from what inspires him (e.g. family, book, movies, historical figures) to what he wants to accomplish during his life.

At the end of the interview I asked, “Who is the most awe-inspiring person you know in Indianapolis?” Then I interviewed that person and asked them the same question. I went from person to person, along a chain, recording interviews with community leaders throughout the city.

Then I moved to New Orleans, LA in order to continue the project there. The goal was to build a, “vibrant community of leaders — all to help revitalize and broaden humanity’s vision.” The website is still online.

Here are a few audio clips:

“What was your first impression when you received an email from me?”

Mike Runge, multimedia and theatrical artist

“When is a person awe-inspiring?”

Norris Henderson, social reformer:

“Why are humans on this planet? Where are we going? Where do you hope we go?”

Don Everard, former Brother in the Catholic Church:


Purdue Collective of Installation Artists

Designed by Qing Zhao

An experiment in group dynamics to alter public space and spread joie de vivre.

As a philosophy student at Purdue University I wanted to “alter public space.” So I created the Purdue CIA. We were an experiment in group dynamics as we strove to be non-hierarchical (aka a “collective”).

I first created the simple Purdue CIA website one evening. It included a registration form to collect emails. Then the next evening I sidewalk chalked all over campus messages like, “Want to alter public space? Want to meet excitingly creative peers? Want to live deliberately and help others do the same? Visit Purdue-CIA.com.”

Within a few days I had about 50 email addresses. Our first meeting was a blast, and we grew from there. Over the two years Purdue CIA existed we grew to 150+ members.

Our Mission

We wish to live deliberately and among the impassioned, to feel the miraculous and be humbled by the mystery. Playfully spreading joie de vivre we enliven public space and cherish the following:

  • Helping others live consciously
  • Creating windows out of normalcy
  • Expressing enormity and
  • Spreading smiles with innocent tomfoolery

Nonsense Worshipping Flash Mob

During a meeting of the Purdue CIA’s we tossed ideas around, and our minds sped up. Somebody said we should do a flashmob. Another person said, “make it absurd – worship something big!”

The result? A lot of fun.

But what did it mean?! A writer in the student newspaper claimed it was an expression of the patriarchy, that we were worshipping a, “phallic symbol.”

Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. 😉


Balloon Tower

This was Purdue CIA’s first project to induce awe by pointing to the immensity of the sky above us.

Original Mission Thwarted!

We decided to connect a helium balloon tower to Purdue’s bell tower. Each of the 20 red balloons would be 2 feet in diameter and separated with 16 feet of string.

This 320 foot balloon tower would be twice the height of the bell tower. The bell tower would be an aesthetically pleasing 1/3rd of the total structure.

The uppermost balloon would be almost invisible at 480 feet. The final effect would be like a pearl necklace leaving the bell tower and disappearing into the sky.

We worked out the logistics of attaching the balloon tower to the bell tower. At 2am on a fall morning we attempted our project but were deterred by campus watch-people.

New Mission

The bell tower was well guarded so we used trees instead.

We also assembled a large arrow from dowel rods and red fabric. This was at the base of the tower, and this arrow was to point into the infinite sky.

Around 4 am 12 CIA members came to my apartment and we launched the project. Everything went according to plan except the wind blew the tower horizontally. Click pictures for larger view.


1,100 Sticks of Sidewalk Chalk

This was Purdue CIA’s first project of the 07-08 school year.

We passed out sidewalk chalk with a simple message rubberbanded on, “Create! Interact with Life! The world is your audience. Turn ground into message board. Communicate with strangers.”

Success!

The student newspaper covered the project on their front page:

The weather was beautiful, and most students were very happy to get a piece of chalk. 100s drew pictures, quotes, jokes, riddles and poems everywhere. About 200 square feet were covered.


Karma Cards

Designed by Elaine Meese

An experiment in which people can follow acts of kindness as they are paid forward around their city.

Imagine coming home to discover your neighbor raked your leaves (or made you an Apple Snicklefritz Berrypie — your favorite!). On your doorstep is a small card that reads,

“This little card travels around spreading joy. Pass it to someone else along with a random act of kindness. Follow its journey around the world online.”

In 2011, I demoed this project in New Orleans, LA. I distributed hand-painted cards along with 50 red helium balloons. Almost every single person smiled genuinely as I gave them a balloon.

A year later I received this email from a resident assistant at a college in New York,

“I actually heard about the Karma cards from my mom…

Before I went to college, I remember my mom coming home one day really excited because she was at the drive-thru earlier that day and when she pulled up to pay the cashier said the person in the car in front of her payed for her meal and gave her one of your cards.

It was a really little thing that took like no effort and probably only cost this person a couple of dollars, but it completely made my mom’s day.

The fact that some random stranger did a nice thing, even if it was just something small, for someone they didn’t know at all really struck both my mom and I as something pretty awesome. It sometimes seems these days that we’re all on our own and if you don’t know someone then whatever is going on with them isn’t really your problem, but these cards kinda show you that people don’t have to act that way and they can still be there for each other.

Then when I was trying to think of a program that would show my residents how they could improve their society, these immediately popped into my head. I figured that giving my 30 residents these cards would hopefully make people think a little bit harder about those around them and that they will get as much from these cards as I did.”


Technology Wellness

 

Coming soon.


Digital Literacy Contest

Designed by Qing Zhao

A web-based game in which university students compete to find information online.

In 2007 I created a game for friends. Over 50 people came to a computer lab at Purdue University and competed to answer questions by searching the internet. Questions like,

  • How much money did the pharmaceutical industry to Senator Richard Lugar?
  • What is the username of the person who edited the Wikipedia article ‘Exxon’ on August, 26 2007 at 4:02 am?

They had so much fun we decided to do it again. Over 100 students competed in the second event.

Then I formed a team of computer science students to create a professional web-based version of the game. We won several thousand dollars in various business plan competitions and began selling packages to universities throughout North America.

I had the opportunity to lead discussions at each location with students, librarians, and academics on topics like:

  • How is internet affecting our minds?
  • How can citizen journalists pull more weight as newspapers collapse?
  • How do the most information savvy students find quality information?

 


Intellectual File

I maintain a highly organized filing system of my intellectual output. It includes things like:

  • Book outlines
  • Lecture notes
  • Interviews
  • Inventions
  • Business ideas
  • Dreams
  • Etc.

It stretches back 20 years and is a hybrid system — both in the cloud and an entire shelf of notebooks and binders. It’s inspired by:

C Wright Mills’s “intellectual file:”

“…modern man has so very little personal experience and yet experience is so important as a source of original intellectual work… By keeping an adequate file and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake.”

I made a detailed outline available here.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “savings bank:”

“This Book is my Savings Bank. I grow richer because I have somewhere to deposit my earnings; and fractions are worth more to me because corresponding fractions are waiting here that shall be made integers by their addition.”

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Chronofile:

“[This was] Fuller’s attempt to document his life as completely as possible….This is said to be the most documented human life in history.” –Wikipedia

“The R. Buckminster Fuller Collection documents the life and work of this 20th century polymath, and contains his personal archive, correspondence, manuscripts, drawings and audio-visual materials relating to his career as an architect, mathematician, inventor and social critic.” –Fuller archive at Stanford University

Leonardo daVinci’s notebooks:

“Leonardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, kept notes and drawings of his studies, ideas and inventions. Over 7,000 pages have survived…” –da Vinci archive at the British Library

Thomas Jefferson’s extensive notes

Philip K Dick’s Exegesis:

“From 1974 until his death in 1982, Dick wrote the Exegesis by hand in late-night writing sessions, sometimes composing as many as 150 pages in a sitting. In total, it consists of approximately 8,000 pages of notes, only a small portion of which have been published.” –Wikipedia

Ryan Holiday’s “ritual” of 4×5 cards:

“Here’s my ritual: I read, I fold pages and jot down which passages and quotes I like. Then I let the books sit. A few weeks or months later, I pick those books back up and go through them. Everything important is transferred—by hand—to 4×6 index cards.

I love the ritual of taking the words out of the book, feeling them flow through my own hands and putting them back onto paper, and then organizing the information so that I might access it later.

When I finish, I put a little check mark on the first page of the book so I know I went through. Last Saturday alone I think I went through 7 books. It’s one of the few “administrative” tasks in my life that I would never outsource. Not because I couldn’t but because I would never let someone else rob me of the privilege.”

[Read more about his process and  the precious resulting “commonplace book” here]