In Praise of 3Blue1Brown

I’ve been talking about bloggers I admire this past week, in one way or the other. But when it comes to consuming audio and video content, I’m at a comparative disadvantage. I much prefer reading to listening or viewing – partly because I read much faster. The other reason, of course, is that my preference for reading very quickly becomes a vicious cycle. Because I’m better at reading than at listening or viewing, I read more, and as a consequence, I get even better at reading. And so on.

But that’s just me, of course. Other folks might have (and do have) different preferences. In fact, I’ve often been told that I really should be creating videos in addition to writing this blog. And I don’t disagree, not even one little bit, and for the following reasons:

  1. If my purpose behind writing on this blog is to help people learn better (and that very much is the case), I’m not doing a very good job if I’m not optimizing for the medium that people prefer
  2. Creating YouTube videos really forces you to hone in on the exact message. Writing blogs allows me to be lazy while writing, and I needn’t worry about length and conciseness. I know this is a bad habit, and one of my to-do’s is to get better at writing bogposts.
  3. Creating videos allows you to be much, much more creative.

But that last point is precisely why I haven’t gotten around to creating videos just yet. Well, that last reason combined with my talent for procrastination, but let’s not go down that road. Let us, instead, go down that first road, the non-procrastination one.

It comes down to (surprise, surprise) an economic concept. Specifically, complements and substitutes. It would be the easiest thing in the world to set up a camera in a class in which I am already teaching something, and put up that video on YouTube. And folks who might watch this recording are simply substituting physically attending my class for virtually attending it. Which is great, of course, and I’ve have enjoyed watching videos that use this technique created by other folks.

But there are other videos on YouTube that don’t just substitute for the real world. The creator treats the format (video) as a complement to his content. The video is not a substitute for the physical classroom, it is a complement to what the creator is saying. And if you want to understand what that really means, try the following. Pick a math textbook of your choice, and try to understand linear algebra. Then watch Grant Sanderson weave his magic on the same subject.

And sure, maybe I was taught the subject badly in college. But even with a really good teacher and/or a really good math textbook in college, I cannot imagine not falling in love with the way Grant teaches us linear algebra. If you’ve watched even one of the videos in that series (and I really do hope you will watch all of them), I think you’ll agree that he comfortably ticks all of the boxes in my little list above.

And there’s so much to admire with all of his videos. The little “pi’s”, the music, his voice (an underrated part of what makes him such a good teacher. His pauses, his inflections and modulations, the pace at which he talks, all are always perfect), and the animations all end up making his videos so much better. And the content itself, and the insane amount of both coding and thinking that must go into each of them, is a whole other story.

My personal favorites from the channel are the Linear Algebra series, and the series on calculus. And as someone who teaches statistics, his video on Bayes Theorem is also fantastic. But let me be clear, these are simply the ones that resonated the most strongly with me. All of 3Blue1Brown’s videos that I have seen are fantastic. All. Every single one of them.

And if you left school/college with a slight dislike for mathematics (as I did), you couldn’t do yourself a better favor then spending a little bit of time everyday watching 3Blue1Brown’s videos. And if you are in love with mathematics (as I now am), you don’t need me to tell you to go watch his videos, now do you?

Grant, thank you very much for your work!