Last Sunday, the NYTimes ran one of those lengthy opinion pieces that seems calculated to ruffle feathers and generate chatter. The thesis of the piece is that we are in a "post-idea" age. We have no more big ideas—just sort of, well, medium ideas, at best, that we share with our little groups on Facebook. And since ideas have consequences, when your ideas are only medium-sized, that has consequences too. Not surprisingly, the author links this all to "kids these days" and social media.
I'll admit I'm tired of these types of pieces, a genre unto themselves throughout modern history—their ancestors probably are inscribed in hieroglyphics into a stone somewhere. It's similar to that anti-blogging rant I (ironically) blogged about a few weeks ago. As then, I want to say, okay, and what?
I don't think my impatience is directly related to the short attention span I'm told I have because I was born in the 1980s and came of age with Mark Zuckerberg. You're free to disagree (though in fairness, you should probably come look at my bookshelves first). And I quite agree with the essence of this article, which is that original thought is very important to the health of a society, not to mention a person.
Furthermore, the article implies in a small way that those who have big ideas are the ones that make history (". . . 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."). Marx and Nietzsche and a host of others are remembered by name today because they had original big ideas that changed the world in big ways.
That said: I get the sneaking suspicion from this article that the author, wagging his head gloomily, wants to sadly remind me and my Times-reading friends that we are post-Golden Age, and that we must either remedy this by having our own big ideas that affect a whole society (NB: we're working on it) or, maybe, he likes the lament itself, and hopes it will be a big idea of its own—something to be remembered for.
He writes, "What the future portends is more and more information—Everests of it. There won't be anything we won't know. But there will be no one thinking about it. Think about that." Here's the thing: I don't know who's impressed with this. Maybe we are post-idea, if that can be said. Who knows. But it may be prudent to give it a little time, a few decades, before you start declaring that it's all over. The fact you're not running across those big ideas might just mean they're being developed and embodied by good little postmodernists before they're put into words. We like that, us Millennials: embodied ideas. We don't like abstract declarations. Have a little faith. And maybe think about that.