Neal Gabler does a terrific opinion piece in this past Sunday's NYTimes on how our culture increasing follows present centered and transient flashes of information at the expense of integrative ideas and metaphors. It hit me between the eyes, resonating with my own frustration over feeling that I am constantly awash in streams of information chunks that do not cohere - are not integrated into perceiving patterns and overarching ideas. It was a reaffirmation of my recent decision test the effect of going cold turkey for awhile - to shut off my daily cruising of the Huffington Post and several other aggregators and news feeds. To stop watching the Jon Stewart Daily News, Colbert Report, and evening news. Already I can feel a detoxification process settling in, a slightly more calm mind. Gabler starts by noting that The Atlantic's “14 Biggest Ideas of the Year” are not in fact ideas, they are observations (sample: “Wall Street: Same as it Ever Was”) Here are some clips from Gabler's article:
Ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world…They could penetrate the general culture and make celebrities out of thinkers — notably Albert Einstein, but also Reinhold Niebuhr, Daniel Bell, Betty Friedan, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, to name a few. The ideas themselves could even be made famous: for instance, for “the end of ideology,” “the medium is the message,” “the feminine mystique,” “the Big Bang theory,” “the end of history.”…we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding.
…especially here in America...we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief. But post-Enlightenment and post-idea, while related, are not exactly the same...Post-Enlightenment refers to a style of thinking that no longer deploys the techniques of rational thought. Post-idea refers to thinking that is no longer done, regardless of the style.
We live in the much vaunted Age of Information. Courtesy of the Internet, we seem to have immediate access to anything that anyone could ever want to know…In the past, we collected information not simply to know things….We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information..But if information was once grist for ideas, over the last decade it has become competition for them. We are like the farmer who has too much wheat to make flour. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to…We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions.
…social networking sites are the primary form of communication among young people, and they are supplanting print, which is where ideas have typically gestated. …social networking sites engender habits of mind that are inimical to the kind of deliberate discourse that gives rise to ideas. Instead of theories, hypotheses and grand arguments, we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show.
…We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media, which have learned to service our narcissism.