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The Post-Idea World

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the shiny-objects-trump-shiny-thoughts dept.

Editorial 368

An anonymous reader sends this quote from an opinion piece in the NY Times: "If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it's not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don't care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, 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. Bold ideas are almost passé. ... There is the eclipse of the public intellectual in the general media by the pundit who substitutes outrageousness for thoughtfulness, and the concomitant decline of the essay in general-interest magazines. And there is the rise of an increasingly visual culture, especially among the young — a form in which ideas are more difficult to express. But these factors, which began decades ago, were more likely harbingers of an approaching post-idea world than the chief causes of it."

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I have an idea (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105596)

The niggers: let them all go back to Africa. Can't we have just one white nation? We can do the culti multi thing in all the others.

Re:I have an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106232)

Yeah, let's eliminate the race difference. Then we'll be able to think about our differences of religions. After that, the differences about hair colors. And after that, the sex difference.

Ah yes (3, Insightful)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105602)

Because Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and others were interested in "thought-provoking ideas" and NEVER wanted to instantly monetize on them...

Re:Ah yes (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105744)

...and absolutely nobody is working on completely pie-in-the-shy ideas like, eg., space elevators, SETI, etc.

Re:Ah yes (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105894)

...and absolutely nobody is working on completely pie-in-the-shy ideas like, eg., space elevators, SETI, etc.

That's not really true. There are people working on those things, but nobody cares because most people don't have any money.

I can't even imagine what it's like for a 22 year old graduate hoping for a future.

Re:Ah yes (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106210)

Most people have not cared about new big ideas throughout history.

Re:Ah yes (1)

INT_QRK (1043164) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106072)

I have no idea what the author is talking about. Here he is posting to an ideas forum on how we're running out of ideas. Bad form. BTW, not all big ideas are good ideas, especially in implementation and outcome: eugenics for one; racism; National Socialism; Marxism; shall we go on? Favorite Huxley quote: "The great tragedy of science -- a beautiful hypothesis slain by an ugly fact!"

Re:Ah yes (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106192)

When the context is greed, then the author is unwittingly lamenting the fact that he/she can make no cash from their own ideas.

Others are doing very well, even when the ideas are not their own. The fact that the author hasn't the zeal, tenacity, luck, mettle, or whatever else it takes to put his/her brain into zenith mode seems a problem. Ideas, you see, are cheap currency; everyone has them. The actual beneficiaries are the ones that can take a big idea and put it into practice or process. Monetizing is a goal for those that need to get rich; not all of us need to get rich at all. "Rich" has its own problems.

Re:Ah yes (4, Informative)

zoom-ping (905112) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105782)

That's because they were more into patenting others ideas rather than coming up with their own.

Re:Ah yes (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106054)

That's because, even if you have a genuine idea, and especially if it is a profitable idea, you will be sued by all the big apples, and at the end you will be happy if you are not under the water, or not in jail....

Re:Ah yes (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105794)

Edison mostly monetized the ideas of his employees. (I see you got the same discount scratch-and-dent education I did.)

Actually... (3, Funny)

moozey (2437812) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105604)

It's because we've thought of everything.

Re:Actually... (4, Insightful)

EnderDom (1934586) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105898)

Yeah, this article's basically of the "Everything that can be invented has been invented." ilk.

IMO this mentality is usually due to the fact that the authors are far abstracted from the realms of innovation within science, business and general subcultures of society. All sorts of amazing things are being thought of, written about, developed and researched, but are out of sight of the main stream New York Times journalism.

Wrong (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105606)

Our forefathers dreamed of things we take for granted today. Electricity, transportation, communication, etc. Our ideas are about making things more efficient (smaller, faster, etc) or serving our corporate masters by making them cheaper or more profitable.

We have plenty of ideas, just not all of them serve mankind - they server our technological or cultural needs. Looking back, our forefathers' ideas were about their place in time as well.

Re:Wrong (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105742)

In way way does cheaper, smaller, faster not serve mankind? Efficiency is important for all of us - in fact it's what is keeping our bloated population alive. We're not going to get more resources through magic!

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106186)

Sometimes we lose abilities. Time for a car analogy.

In the past, cars had stout enough frames to tow RVs, and medium to large sized ones. The old 454 big blocks did not get nearly as much horsepower per cubic inch as engines today, but they could haul a 5000 pound Airstream up mountain passes.

These days, if one tries that with a modern day front wheel drive car, the trailer would be sitting there with part of the car's frame still on the hitch. One might be able to tow a light (under 500 pounds) trailer, but a lot of cars actually forbid towing anything at all on pain of voiding the vehicle's warranty.

Yes, we have more efficient vehicles, but they do less. These days, pretty much everything, be it performance, towing capacity, reliability, or safety are being sacrificed on the almighty MPG altar.

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106188)

Smaller, faster, and cheaper is nice for everyone to some degree (most), but in another way, it can have a negative impact on the human identity in that it removes a sense of self. Maintaining identity in and of itself is an act which supersedes efficiency because humanity is built this way.

Why do you think that people were generally happier 10 or 20 years ago versus today? Sure, no study that I'm aware of has researched whether this is true or not, but I know where I'd be putting my money if I had to place a bet...

Magics of money ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106206)

In reality, cheaper products are mandated because the slaves of today earn far less money than the people of older times; the same thing goes for making things faster ...

Going back to the topic of Magic, the members of the Central Banking Cartels simply invoke money out of electrical patterns in computer hard drives (not exactly out of thin air, but as close as you can get). Similar magic is practiced in both Intellectual Property laws & Corporate tax code.

Concerning the other ressources, the Magic involved would have to do with ecological use (instead of agro-chemical abuse) of the planet, along with space-mining, and perhaps a bit of trash-mining for what has been blatantly abused in the past.

Re:Wrong (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105930)

I agree, however, there needs to be a more focused attempt towards moving technology forward, not just towards smaller faster and better version of their previous...

The invention of the radio, tv, microwave, etc....seems to have pushed us forward, however, bringing about smaller and smaller iphones servers no one in the end, except the big companies selling their products...i hope the world will start to push innovation a little more, else we will never make it to the day where teleportation exists!

Re:Wrong (1)

after.fallout.34t98e (1908288) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106256)

Take for example this one: []

In a hundred years that one is going to be taken for granted.

Just scanning that site for other examples that I have seen elsewhere as well: [] [] []

Ideas haven't gotten smaller, they have gotten diluted due to the sheer number of them.

Nah (3, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105612)

The difference is people expect instant feedback/results from their new ideas in the same way they get instant results from almost everything else these days. The bottom line is it takes a lot of hard work and convincing to get an even vaguely new idea into circulation - exactly the same as it always did. Also it depends on the field, in technology new ideas are constantly being tried out and adopted or discarded.

Re:Nah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106126)

The difference is in the educational system. All schools world wide teach mostly the same things, and mostly through the same methods. Two hundred years ago, people learned from a variety of sources and a variety of things, a lot wrong things and through poor methods, but it's those differences that sparked such unique thoughts and brought amazing ideas to life.

Today's students go to school with one particular mindset, and after 12-16 years of "schooling" they all think mostly the same, the differences are there, but still minor compared to students that benefit from other types of education.

Then there's the environment that forces everyone to think the same, TV, magazines, internet they all tell us what's cool to wear, what's cool to watch and so on. It shouldn't affect people very much, but those 12+ years of training ensure you'll care about those things.

This also explains the vast difference from geeks and the rest of the world. We have Star Trek, board games and other things, instead of the regular TV programming, and it shows in behaviour and school results.

Meh (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105620)

I think we care, we just don't have the framework in place to explore big ideas any more.

We have become very good at improving existing technology. Release product, take user feedback, make improvements, sell update product.. rinse and repeat.

The magic word of the day has become ROI.

We don't have Bell labs doing hard core research any more, and no one will invest in anything which doesn't have a clear pathway to profit.

Re:Meh (1)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105804)

And worse, people trying to make it alone often can't get the new ideas out there because it costs so much to do it. Especially if patents are involved.

Re:Meh (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105904)


The best argument against patents is to apply their use today to innovation of the past. You can't just go out and invent something these days.. without violating a patent on soldering a copper wire to a metal pin or something stupid (ok, I know.. hyperbole.. but you get the point).

Re:Meh (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106114)

I think if you look back I'm not sure we ever had big ideas at any time. Everything is small steps. Give me an example of something that was a genuine big idea that wasn't done without lots of small tiny increments.
Man on the moon: ever greater size rockets. Ever greater rockets, small steps of improvements over earlier ones. The original rocket, was built in someone's shed.
The first working airplane: built by a pair of bicycle builders in their spare time.
Telephone: preceded by speaking tubes, and microphones and speakers as separete developments.
The computer: need I spell it out?

They only seem like big massive ideas in retrospect. Look at Bell lab's transistor development, that wasn't a big idea just an interesting discovery that took years to get working reliably and in production. Same with fibre optics, the idea was had in the 60s, it took until the 80s/90s for the glass technology to catch up.
To me this sounds like the author of the article can't see the trees in the forest because of all the trees popping up all over the place.

Re:Meh (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106244)

Has everyone forgotten there are hundreds of universities out there doing pie in the sky research every day that will most likely take decades to monetize, if ever?

What about our national research labs? Sandia, Fermilab, Los Alamos... amazing things have come out of these places and they're still doing great work that again, won't readily be monetized. How about NASA's mars missions, both past and future?

And for crying out loud.... CERN? How much more pie in the sky can you get? The LHC cost $9billion and what exactly is the ROI of that?

Timeless BS (4, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105630)

My big idea is that I do not even have to RTFA to know that this is one of those pieces which is all about the world going to hell in a handbasket, no, this time for real. We are always less smart/less moral/less disciplined/less tough than our imaginary forefathers and apparently always will be.

Re:Timeless BS (4, Funny)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105746)

My favorite response to this is "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."

Re:Timeless BS (1)

BobNET (119675) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106218)

I remember being more nostalgic in the past. Those were good times.

Re:Timeless BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105916)

Are you saying that we're perfect and shouldn't strive to be better? Even if the past wasn't the golden age of wonder that some make it out to be, what's wrong with an article that pushes us to find it "again?"

Re:Timeless BS (1)

zildgulf (1116981) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105992)

Yes it does seem to read like that. I think he, and others like him, are using the wrong metric, a metric was was true in the past but not the present. It would be like saying medicine is stuck because we have not discovered any new bodily organ for over 100 years. Believe it or not back in the 18th and 19th Centuries the progress of medicine was measured in how many new organs we can discover, or at least seemed to be by the small number of books we have on medicine from back then. Today we use a totally different metric.

We don't generate tons of "deep thought ideas" because those kind of ideas are required to be better and more able to withstand the "well, we tried that idea exactly that way and this is the result", which is easier to find now. For example, back in the 19th century you could come up with many ideas new collectivism and capitalism in society. Today we know the result of those ideas so any new idea on that subject can't be a rehash to be defined as a "new idea".

Re:Timeless BS (3, Insightful)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106080)

These articles are silly. They are nostalgic for a time that never was. They don't understand that history is a highlight reel. The big ideas happen once, maybe twice in a generation and few people actually contribute to them. "Public intellectuals" are no less or more important today then they were 100 years ago. What big ideas does the author think are being ignored?

SETI is still operating, that is about as big as ideas get. Quantum Physic/Mechanicss is still widely researched and very well funded. Neither of these subjects has any immediate commercial value.

My big idea is that TFA was written by a moron that fancies himself an intellectual. Oh shoot, does that make me a pundit?

Re:Timeless BS (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106104)

I now respond to my own punditry. I was wrong to expect an intelligent well-reasoned opinion-piece in the New York Times.

Re:Timeless BS (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106184)

Chillax, gramps. The NY Times wasn't even on your lawn!

We have ideas, we just can't exploit them (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105634)

All the good ideas have already been patented. Try doing anything innovative and some lawyer, somewhere will tie you up in litigation until the sun goes cold or you run out of money.

Re:We have ideas, we just can't exploit them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106030)

it's not that all the good ideas have been patented. It's that if and when you come up with a good idea and make it work, some one else will claim your idea infringes on some patent which is sometime something so vague and arbitrary that it might have been about something totally different. Or about something so common and everyday like breathing but because it relates to some technology it's considered Intellectual Property. Prime example would be Android and all the patent trolls that are going after it because it's so popular. Also kind of strange that no one bothered to go after Apple when they made it with iPod. Seems like they're not the first to come up with a MP3 player. I guess that was then when innovation actually matter.

Re:We have ideas, we just can't exploit them (1)

SomeKDEUser (1243392) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106194)

That is because the iPod came befor the following Big Idea: in a world where everything is so complex and interconnected as ours, any device, programme, design is derivative of something. Therefore, you but need a couple patents and some ayers to make a living.

Hopefully, the next Big Idea will be that in a world where everything is so complex and interconnected as ours, claiming ownership of an idea is preposterous.

The reason why (2, Insightful)

hardburlyboogerman (161244) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105642)

Ideas seem not so important is because today's society is based on GREED.Instant wealth and power over the new item or it doesn't get to the people.Sounds a lot like Apple and their i(fill in the blank) whatevers.

Re:The reason why (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105854)

Ideas seem not so important is because today's society is based on GREED.Instant wealth and power

Try reading a history book. Every important society in the whole of history was based on exactly those principles.

The only examples I can think of where that wasn't true are societies where there's nothing much to steal from each other, eg. the Bushmen of the Kalahari.

A counter-example (4, Informative)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105644)

I think there are plenty of good ideas -- small, medium, and large -- today. For example, see TED [] .

Re:A counter-example (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105838)

those ideas are what are the ideas in "post ideas".

"the shareable future", "finding planets around stars", "one day of peace"(really? is it the 60's? or '20s now?), "ending hunger now", "surprising math of cities and corporations","how algorithms shape our world","breakthrough touchscreen", "animal rescue".. see where I'm getting? it's not new stuff at all. there's some technical methods on some talks which sophisticate existing methods though, but that's more iterative.

not only that, but if you pick up the archives of say popular mechanics and read them from fifties to today you'll see a lot of ideas that just get rehashed again and again into futuristic visions, usually ignoring the same practicalities every time - yet we eat and live the same as modern people in fifties lived, you got the same appliances, same reasons for wars, same reasons for inability to distribute food. same reasons for why people do the wrong thing.

But not only that! nowadays people are also actively encouraged to NOT try out their ideas, because they're dangerous, need toxic materials, cause potential harm to the environment, or just change to environment, might put people in potential danger..

Re:A counter-example (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106124)

TED is maybe not the best example, but the world is still pursuing big ideas. I pointed out two earlier in this discussion as an example. You have to live in a bubble to believe he world is out of big ideas.

Re:A counter-example (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106116)

I like TED speeches, but they are just murmuring popular memes using great sophistry skills at each other. Don't confused TED talks with actual new ideas. I suppose it is possible to be ignorant enough to learn something from a TED talk, but ... probably unlikely.

Real new ideas are not a rehash of "lets try world peace", "lets all feel catholic style guilt at destroying the earth", "computers make pretty pictures".

Real new ideas, historically, were the result of things like "what happens if I shine a UV light at a piece of metal in a vacuum, for no better reason than no one tried this before?" "what happens if I store a tank of double bonded fluorocarbons in a sorta catalytic environment for a long time, just because we can?" "what if we tried to simulate the orbit of an electron using discrete energy levels, just for the heck of it?"

Not, "here's a popular fuzzy idea that no one politically correct or socially acceptable could possibly dislike, now let me sharpen my sophistry skills upon it for less than 18 minutes"

Maybe we know better? (0)

Tei (520358) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105646)

Success is as much a product of concept, but as implementation, luck and be the right person on the right moment.

Work is about 40 times more important than the idea. Luck 10 times. And implementation 2 or 3 times.
Since everyone has ideas, the expensive thing is hard work and luck. You can't really buy luck, so is preciuous.

Re:Maybe we know better? (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105770)

And your numbers are half as accurate as mine. I can pull them from 3 inches deeper in my rectum than you. And that's 100 times better!

Ideas (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105648)

That is why we don't have such things as 'The Large Haldron Super Collider', The Mars Rover series, The ISS and now private space ships, electric cars, etc. Because of course - none of these things can be monetized immediately.

And folks wonder about the death of Newspapers.

Note where the ideas are coming from. Government. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105692)

Note where they aren't: Corporations. They're seeing a faster ROI by patenting a minor change, rather than researching a major breakthrough. And, worse, they're getting lots of face-time to either cut that ideas factory (The Government) down to nothing or make it a publicly funded R&D outsourced center, where they pay nothing and get to patent the lot.

Or... (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105668)

Or perhaps the easiest ideas have already been thought of in previous generation and creating new ideas has become harder.
On the other hand, even though the quantity of ideas has decreased, the quality (in absolute terms) has increased due to the exact same reasons.
All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.

For example; I'm a programmer and have invented many algorithms. Most of these turned out to have been invented by other programmers before I was even born. There was a time when bubble sorting was a new idea, nowadays you have to think of something much more complex in order for it to be a truely new idea. Quite simply; the intellectual barrier to generating new ideas has become much greater.

MAybe, but we generate more ideas I think (1)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105674)

I think we generate more ideas .. I mean there are like decades that used to go by without a single new idea .. like say 2500 BC to 2900 BC .. how many new ideas? Writing was invented ... Pyramids .. the concept had been thought of .. maybe a mathematical concept or an improvement to writing happening but can we say new ideas in comparison to what we see nowadays over the past few years (faster CPUs, better phone user interfaces, social networking, etc) ? Doubtful.

Re:MAybe, but we generate more ideas I think (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105914)

Well, the relevant measure is of course ideas/person. I think today there are more people living in New York than 2500BC on the whole earth.

Also, don't underestimate the number of ideas from former times. Many things which were found back then are so standard today that we don't even think about it any more. Figuring out the concept of zero was orders of magnitudes more complicated than figuring out how to make usable light bulbs. Also the invention of the alphabet was a major breakthrough.

Speaking about the alphabet: Most ideas from before invention of the alphabet are probably lost. There's no way to find out how many there were. Indeed, many ideas from afterwards are probably lost, too, because few people knew how to write back then.

Also note that many ideas from back then are totally useless today. An improvement in the way to hunt a mammoth may have been just a big achievement as some innovation in a modern processor. However that knowledge became useless as soon as mammoths disappeared. Of course that will be the case for many today's inventions as well. For example, all the inventions on oil production will stop being useful as soon as the last oil was removed from earth.

There we go, *again* (1)

drobety (2429764) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105694)

That some things were better in some distant past is a recurring idea.

What about TED? (1)

dlingman (1757250) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105696)

I'm calling bullshit on this article. I'm guessing the author has never heard of TED. Sadly, neither have most of the general population. The ideas are still coming, but the masses don't care, if they don't fit in a 140 character tweet, or a 30 second youtube clip. (or an animated GIF)

Re:What about TED? (1)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105756)

I am wondering if this all isn't just a modified case of nostalgia myself. TED is an example. Did everyone have big, grand ideas or do we just remember those who had those ideas out of proportion of what really happened? Everyone remembers the Einsteins and Edisons, but how many recall Tesla?

The culture has changed some too, I do have to concede. Are our ideas less big because we don't have Edisons electrocuting full grown elephants to death in public to prove how dangerous his opponent's competing project is or Teslas building (privately) attempts at giant power transmitters and death rays? I suspect the big ideas exist. They just aren't as flamboyant.

Re:What about TED? (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105974)

When you build a giant death ray nowadays you have to keep it secret to prevent breaching your contract with DARPA.

Re:What about TED? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106050)

The really big change? Poor people have access to to information now. When 80% of the population was illiterate, the target market for anything written was the privileged elite who could afford to spend most of their time contemplating abstract ideas. There weren't more big ideas, but they made up a much higher percentage of total material. No one was publishing mass-market trash when there was no mass market.

Re:What about TED? (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106238)

I agree, it's a case of looking back over many years and seeing a large collection of great ideas, then comparing it to a small snapshot of present time.

I also wonder if the big ideas of today are simply too specialized for lay people to understand easily. Talking about quantum computing, multiverses, exotic higgs bossons, etc makes people's heads hurt. It's not as easy to swallow today's ideas because they've gone further down the roads started by yesterday's ideas.

I know in my field, data oriented programming is creating a buzz. That seems like a big idea. It's not something i can discuss with my family around the dinner table though.

Re:What about TED? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105976)

I'm guessing the author has never heard of TED. Sadly, neither have most of the general population.
The ideas are still coming, but the masses don't care, if they don't fit in a 140 character tweet, or a 30 second youtube clip. (or an animated GIF)

That's the point of TFA:

This isn’t to say that the successors of Rosenberg, Rawls and Keynes don’t exist, only that if they do, they are not likely to get traction in a culture that has so little use for ideas, especially big, exciting, dangerous ones, and that’s true whether the ideas come from academics or others who are not part of elite organizations and who challenge the conventional wisdom. All thinkers are victims of information glut, and the ideas of today’s thinkers are also victims of that glut.

Re:What about TED? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106000)

Agreed. The human race has now become highly specialized. Almost every field is advancing at a fast pace, but because the fields are so specialized the layperson whose only exposure to engineering is changing the filter on his air conditioner once in a while, whose only exposure to physics is comparing the kW ratings of the engines of the next car he is going to lease, whose only exposure to mathematics is trying to figure out how much he can afford to pay down his credit card next month, and whose only exposure to science is taking a drug whose name he can't pronounce for a condition he has no idea and doesn't care about, well for these people science has stagnated.

After all we had tv's, computers and electricity when I was a kid too, right?

I'm not sure this is correct. (1)

Chalnoth (1334923) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105700)

These days, it seems to me that the place to read a large variety of in-depth, thought-provoking writing for general audiences lies in the blogosphere. Of course, the blogosphere varies tremendously in content and in quality, and I really have no clue how much this compares in terms of volume with previous ideas. But I strongly suspect the author is concerned only with the popular news media, and ignoring new media (well, it looks like new media is mentioned and dismissed in a single sentence). But I don't think there is any real problem with a lack of good, in-depth, well thought out ideas.

Another point to be made is that you can't dumbly compare fractions of media content over time and expect them to compare. The difficulty here is that you might be reaching different groups of people entirely. For instance, the places where you saw thought-provoking essays in the past were generally magazines, many of which were read primarily by people in the middle class and higher, not by poorer people. But these days, even poorer people have no difficulty getting online, so even if the previous magazine readers have moved online for their reading, so have the people who never read magazines in the first place. So even if the number of thought-provoking essays goes down as a fraction of total web content, it may still be reaching no smaller a readership than it did before.

So, in the end, I guess I'll just leave it that I am skeptical.

So it begins... (2)

AntEater (16627) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105710)

Evidence of our slow but inevitable descent towards Idiocracy.

Re:So it begins... (1)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105748)

Evidence of our slow but inevitable descent towards Idiocracy.

I don't take a stupid op-ed as evidence of anything except that the NYT is unsurprisingly still shit

Re:So it begins... (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106148)

However, we should be concerned tha some people do.

tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105712)


The author is a stupid wanker... (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105714)

...and he does not seem to understand a difference between an idea and a witty expression.

Its universal ADHD (1)

AvderTheTerrible (1960234) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105724)

The whole world seems to be developing some kind of ADHD that is detrimental to new ideas that take longer to develop than what is now considered normal. Investors want their returns now, news outlets don't want to bother reporting on something besides an election that takes months to develop, and consumers don't want to wait, they'll just take the next best thing that pops up. The pace of life arguably has something to do with it, as we increasingly work as a society to eliminate the need to wait for anything. Want news? Well back in the 70s you had to wait for your local newscast to tell you what happened in summary, and then you got the paper the next morning for the details. Then came cable news, and you could watch stuff develop live. More cable news outlets came out and copied and expanded on it. Anyone remember how some people were glued to their sets day after day watching the OJ Simpson trial go down in real time? And now in comes the internet and you can get your news from thousands of outlets on the web, social networks, and once you hear about it you tend to not care anymore. People have forgotten how to be patient and a lot of it can be attributed to the "I want it NOW" mentality that our society seems to promote above all else. We need to calm the hell down, or we'll run over the next big as we dash off in our overfinanced and undeserved sports cars to get our next quick fix of overpriced whatever the hell it is that they're serving today. Slow down.

More like the post-idea media (5, Insightful)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105726)

TFA to me says more about the media failing their role as societal and intellectual catalysts, than about a shortage of ideas as such. There are big ideas out there, you just don't hear about them from the media.

At the risk of opening up a political flame war, even the political parties here in the U.S. have big ideas built into their platforms. What level of service and what level of taxation do we really want from our government? How do we distribute the costs of government? Why is illegal immigration a problem and how do we address it? What are the costs of dealing with global warming, and what are the costs of not dealing with it?

It's just that no one is having an intelligent discussion about these topics. They prefer to stake out a position on blind faith and then denounce everyone who disagrees. Seems to me more like a lack of discussion than a shortage of societal challenges or of ideas to deal with those challenges.

Re:More like the post-idea media (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106160)

You are correct. NYT could have devoted that space to a survey of current theories in quantum mechanics, but they chose to print a piece that denies realit.

narrow minded nonsense (4, Insightful)

CProgrammer98 (240351) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105736)

Max Planck was told in 1874 when looking for a university course "it is hardly worth entering physics anymore because there is nothing important left to discover”

This was long before the days of the atomic model, quantum mechanics, radiation, wave-particle duality etc. All that good stuff that brought us all our shiny electronics and the internet,.

The same is still true - the more we know the more we realise that there's a lot more we still don;t know. Just in the last week I've read about gravity dipoles in qyuantum vacuum fluctuations, and discovery of very dark planets to name but two (ok the latter is a discovery rather than an idea, but we'll now need to work on explaining it, which may lead to new tech., or it may not). It just takes a very very long time for these esoteric ideas to turn into actual useful every day stuff.

Re:narrow minded nonsense (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105870)

You might want to remove the quotes from that "quotation" since (a) it's a paraphrasing of (b) a remark made in German.

Re:narrow minded nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106246)

You might like to bear in mind they are "speech marks" not "quote marks".

Re:narrow minded nonsense (1)

avg_joe_01 (756831) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105928)

I like this idea. I think it's spot on. I'm the first one to complain about a lack of new ideas and how (especially in movies lately!) it's all been done, but lately I've realized that the process of churning out new and innovative ideas takes time and patience, which is not part of our current model. The ideas that fill the gaps are probably going to be constant rehashes of existing ideas because they are already available and can be quickly converted. The rehashes themselves are also not without value, even though we may be sick of them already. I just hope the "filler" ideas don't become too influential; I hope that the new ideas don't quash or artificially direct the new, innovative stuff out of its natural habitat and thereby limit its relevance and/or survival.

Survival of the most fit to survive (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105760)

This is why our vapid society has driven over the edge of the cliff and is in that moment of free fall as the ground rushes up to deliver us to our eventual fate. Big ideas don't matter to most of the population because they think we are flying so big ideas that solve problems just aren't relevant to them any more. Meanwhile stockmarkets oscillate wildly and politicians cannot come up with solutions to the most fundamental structural issues facing our society.

Those who are coming up with those big ideas are enlightened enough to realise that we are falling and are try desperately to stop us from crashing our entire society into an oblivion where the few of us who do survive will speak of times where we used to do the impossible around campfire in the relics of our civilisation.

The nutcases of wayback are todays smart classics (3, Informative)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105766)

I think the problem here is that good essays and insights get lost in the everyday noise and only show their value as they persist over time and more and more people get to see the ingenuity and foresight in them.

I don't think Senecas letters were very famous back then or well know beyond a very small group of people (those he wrote them to). And I also am pretty sure that most citizens of the roman empire didn't care squat about a broad transcendent view on life beyond 'lets pray to jupiter as to win this racing bet'. It is only centuries latter that the quality stuff is still around whilst everyday drivel and non-sense go lost in time and replaced with todays everday drivel and non-sense. Thus we get the impression that back in Senecas time society was full of smart and witty politicians and philosophers making great speeches.

When people in 200 years look at todays Inet Tech era and read Paul Grahams essays - which will still exist while every techcrunch feed will have gone the way of the dodo - people will get the same impression. Lot's of very smart and educated people back then, everything today is degenerated, grand old masters, blabla, jadajada ...

My 2 cents.

Really though? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105786)

Maybe that's because a lot of the good ideas have already been thought of, so the low hanging fruit is nearly gone. However, there's still a lot of low hanging fruit left (for example my own software project I'm currently working on which x?yy***yzzzzz%%%yyr***trvvrtv), and also that heatsink which rotates instead of the fan rotating. See the programme "Dragon's Den" for many more examples.

Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105796)

With patents covering up basic day to day things like clicking a mouse button, how do you want new ground breaking ideas to be implemented ? Even if they are truly new and were never thought of before, they will still most likely infringe on an existing patent. Once the idea starst disrupting the market,big players with huge patent portfolio will come out and kill it through prosecution or buy it and bury it.

I have no research to back my claim though.

It's true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105798)

Here are some big ideas, in no particular order. Good luck making them happen.

Monetary policy: Sell all the gold in ft knox, depressing the gold futures market, and getting investors to put money back into stocks/bonds/banks. Give the revenue to NASA. Barriers are rich a-holes with congressman in pocket.
Social policy: How about a 1 time amnesty deal for illegal immigrants. If you can show your visa was stamped a year ago, you get amnesty, but never get to collect social security/medicare/food stamps etc. Barriers are poor a-holes in thrall to rich ones.
Handhelds: Develop rifle mounts for androids, the rifle is a device. Trigger pulls upload camera stills to command. This changes the PR,training,tactical goals, all at once, provides the grunt with new capabilities. Barriers are patents and bureaucracy.
Cheaper robots mean more distributed farming, greater safety from famine and more health. Good luck getting funding for that, you're putting farmers out of business!
How about we start using those rail guns to shoot projectiles filled with ice into orbit. A satellite could catch them and use solar arrays to start splitting up the water into H and O for rocket fuel to the stars. See the first idea for why this isn't easy, nasa doesn't have any money.

These ideas are free and public domain. ENJOY.

I will agree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105824)

Woody Allen movies are far less known than the latest Vin Diesel or The Rock movies. A baby doesn't laugh at a joke with a long setup because they just don't get it. Most people wandering around have really experienced so little that shows like the Office go like mad because people can just relate. It's sad because we really are blowing away our human experience and the wisdom of the ages because it's not in a glossy package.

There are several factors at play here (3, Insightful)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105828)

Ideas are plentiful. With ~7,000,000,000 people in the world and a large & growing fraction of them having access to the internet, there are ideas everywhere. You're reading my ideas right now, along with those of hundreds of other people all on this one page.

Ideas are easy. Any idiot can come up with ideas. World peace. Flying cars that run on dog poo. Cities on the moon. Ideas are substantially easier to come up with than they are to actually implement. People who come up with 'concepts' for residential towers with farms hanging off the sides; or city vehicles with odd numbers of wheels powered by unobtanium, or political systems where everyone just gets along and are happy are ten a penny, and the abundance of communication that the internet provides makes this painfully obvious.

There are fewer 'good' big ideas left. With all the ideas that everyone has already had and are coming up with all the time, fewer new ideas are actually 'original'; and the originality of an idea can be quickly proved or disproved with 30 seconds on Google.

Specialisation. With the bigger ideas aleady thought of and written about, the lions share of ideas these days is in specialised niches; the 'long tail' if you will. The problem is that such ideas cannot capture the imagination of people at large. There are people coming more ideas than ever, but it's hard to raise enthusiasm for big ideas in computer science or industrial management.

"Good-old-fashioned nostalgia" History seems to be chock full of bold people with big ideas, but a lot of the time it's just dumb nostalgia. Sure, those Victorians wrote a lot of well-considered books and built a fair deal of physical and social infrastructure that persists to this day, but we're talking about 60-100 years here. The innovations and achievements of the past 60 years blow any other 60 year period in history into oblivion. Of course in the past everyone was more 'rational' (ignoring the bigger participation in and seriousness of religion then), was 'healthier' (ignoring the starvation), 'got on better' (ignoring the regular riots/wars/crime) blah blah blah. Probably back then concerned intellectuals railed against the talents of the world being wasted on arranging girders to support mechanical horses, or on the manufacture of cloth etc. No doubt in 100 years time people will be talking in hushed tones about those 'heroes' of the early 21st century, when there were big ideas, and people lived happily in peace without the nefarious influence of xx yy...

Re:There are several factors at play here (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106020)

Of course in the past everyone was more 'rational' (ignoring the bigger participation in and seriousness of religion then)

You're looking at the rewriting of history and thinking the rewrite is true. "The victorians" were much less constrained by religion than we currently are today. All of that "founded by christians" and "in god we trust" is a post WWII addition to the history books, mostly on a anti-commie trip.

Your basic argument remains correct, that was just a bad example.

One important point you missed is its too expensive to F around. For example, a large part of quantum mechanics was brought about by shining a UV light on a piece of metal and being surprised at the highly unexpected characteristics of the emitted electrons. Back then, a guy could F around in the lab and pretty much do what he wants without a PERT chart. Most time spent screwing around in the lab, was, of course, wasted, but some time developed into the field of quantum mechanics. Now a days, you're not going to be allowed to do blue sky experimentation at a billion dollar national lab, therefore, no progress will be made there. Whoops. The MBA manager points at the PERT chart and says, here is where you'll invent something on schedule and as planned. Or most likely not.

Ideas. Not Inventions. (4, Insightful)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105832)

Too many comments so far are missing the point: the article isn't about lack of new "things." The article is about a lack of critical thinking.

It used to be that, in the past, magazines and newspapers and other "common-man" publications would have essays about heady topics. Now you just get articles about how to get rich quick, how some superstar or politician has done something, or some other essentially mundane topic.

Even the "debates" on economics, social norms, climate change, or intellectual property are very sparse on respectful discourse and are instead filled with emotional responses. There's an interesting quote to which I cannot recall attribution, along the lines of "If you get angry when you're defending your topic, that's probably a sign that you don't feel it can stand on its own merits." The lack of temperance in such discussions - from all viewpoints - is fairly damning.

Modern society seems to frown upon thought for thought's sake: if you can't monetize it, why bother? I'd say that "modern society" in this case has missed the point: earning wealth is not the only goal.

Re:Ideas. Not Inventions. (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106170)

Isn't the best example of this the piece itself?

Re:Ideas. Not Inventions. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106196)

No way. You're a stupid head. ;)

As I remember, in the past there were fewer ads, business was a more respected profession, and people were more excited by changing the world than in money. Intelligent discourse was more common too. Read an Archie comic from the 50s... the characters talk about words, definitions, puns. Not so much now.

Big Ideas are there; he just doesn't see them (1)

Will Steinhelm (1822174) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105836)

If the author thinks that a big idea looks like "Marx or a Nietzsche," he's going to be waiting a while. The definition of a "big idea" is that it is novel and game-changing, but based on the examples he gives in the article it appears that what the author is really lamenting is that the world no longer sees the philosophies that excited him in his formative years as new and exciting. I'm not arguing for or against the validity of the examples he gives, but rather that they have matured and are by no means on the front lines of new ideas. Maybe he's just getting old.

Space elevators and personal fission generators (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105846)

Weren't we JUST discussing space elevator technologies and personal fission generators that never needed refueling just a couple of days ago?

End of ideas my ass. It's like those idiots in the late 1800's who thought they knew everything there was to know about the universe, and that all that was left was to "tie up the loose ends".

Re:Space elevators and personal fission generators (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105948)

uh, those ideas aren't exactly fresh.

if you have an idea about how to actually do it and actually DID IT then personal fission and space elevators would be fresh - as it is, they're just on a slightly different theoretical level than a decade ago - or what they were in the 60's.

which is a bit what causes the idea shortage - better knoweledge about previous ideas. you can't have the idea's that were used to push the communist revolution now and call them new ideas. you could do that in early 1900's though, even if the same idea's had been used elsewhere before.

in internal combustion engines there was a period of about 70 years where you could invent stuff, have a glorious idea, execute it and sell it - and only after that read in history books that someone had executed the idea long before you.

Re:Space elevators and personal fission generators (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106198)

Of course they are fresh until they are implemented proven impractical. It is easy to claim there are o big ideas by simply shrugging off the ones people have been thinking about for a while.

Impact of IP (1)

itilguy (714011) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105852)

Perhapps recent intelectual property protection process and corporate patent practices have served to stifle creativity or at least the promise of potential benefit for most individuals with a spirit of inginuity.

This is ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37105868)

It is near impossible to dedicate one's life for brewing great ideas for the benefit of mankind. How on earth am I supposed to fund that? The second I have to spend eight hours working to make ends meet, I've already occupied myself with such high hindrances that make formulating great ideas nigh impossible.

I was not lucky to be born into aristocracy-- on the contrary, I was born to the bottom 1% of wealth distribution in my country.

Still, it was not enough. I did not know where to dedicate my research before I was 25, and by then it was already too late to fund the research without considerable out of curriculum work. It is infuriating, as I'm absolutely certain that given a few years of time and funding, I would be able to contribute significantly to one of the most important fields of modern sciences.

And University studies are not always the way either, as some fields have been corrupted with false premises almost a century ago, effectively crippling everyone who is force-fed with the reigning ideas, barring them from reaching the conclusion hidden in plain sight.

If only there were active patrons today who would fund the independent (or collaborated) research of motivated young people with great ideas. Even research institutes effectively require you to have at least Master's degree, and to complete that you need to absorb parrot false ideas for several years.

It is so, so infuriating-- I guess this is how impotency feels.

List of Big Ideas (1)

boyfaceddog (788041) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105892)

Killing off all bothersome insects with DDT
Endless suburbs
A car in every garage
The Atomic Bomb
Perfect White Bread
Cheap sweeteners
Eliminating all infectious disease with antibiotics

I know I don't trust big ideas because those ideas are usually the ones that lead to big problems.

Re:List of Big Ideas (1)

Doctor_Jest (688315) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106096)

Just a few added to your list...

Corporations as People
Spy Satellites
Patented Seeds
Farm Subsidies
Corn Subsidies (cheap sweeteners)
Sugar Tariffs
Perpetual Copyright
Soap Operas
Fruit Roll Ups
Nachos without onions...

Though, I would point out that DDT is very effective in eliminating malaria-carrying mosquitoes in high malaria areas... The elimination of DDT has caused an unchecked increase in malaria throughout those areas affected by the disease. (It was almost wiped out.) Still, one poison for another... gets you to wondering. :) National Geographic had a great article about it (and malaria) a while back... (too lazy to google it right now.)

Ah, that'd be a list of Big False Lies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37106166)

DDT IS NOT BANNED. It was intended to be used where necessary and not for spraying widely over crops. However, it WAS used like that and mozzies started to show resistance to DDT. It was ALWAYS not for agricultural spraying and the ban is an explicit ban on agricultural spraying.

The biggest reduction of malaria cases were far cheaper use of insecticidal mosquito nets. NOTE: FAR CHEAPER. This is a problem for a company who can sell DDT in huge quantities for indiscriminate spraying.

Cases of death by malaria HAS NOT increased since DDT spraying stopped and HAS DECREASED with more widespread use of nets.

I would suggest if you wish to inform yourself, you check out what's going on, rather than relying on a PR puff piece from the chemical brothers.

Idea Poofery (1)

Azghoul (25786) | more than 3 years ago | (#37105956)

This guy seems to be wanting to coin the "idea" that "ideas are dead".

It's a trap (1)

stoicio (710327) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106034)

Yes. Then he can copyright the 'Post Idea World' idea and sue everyone who coins it for money.
The 'medium' is not the 'message', it's a trap.

What? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106008)

Now we have the Snuggie, dammit!

here's a high-minded concept for you: (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106064)

historical myopia

the perception things are changing, only because you are forgetting how things really were

people are not more or less susceptible to bad ideas, or outrageous propaganda, or visual aesthetic, than they were in 2011 BC as they are now. why? because sociology and psychology are constants. culture and civilization changes, not our basic mental weaknesses and strengths

this idea that certain social phenomena are getting worse over time is a side effect of forgetting. when in truth, much of social phenomena are constants across all cultures and all times. you see it constantly inn conservative thinking: freak outs about rising crime, barbarism, immorality, disrespect... when of course, these things are constant, if not getting better. there is no magical past, there is only nostalgia: the effect of forgetting all the bad parts, remembering only the good, and misremembering made up feel good impressions

Total BS (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106088)

The Author of the article looks at todays popular culture and wonders where all the big ideas are... they had big ideas 100 years ago he says! But he's comparing today's popular culture to yesterdays underground subculture. If he were to look at the pop-culture of 100 years ago he'd see a plethora of paperback westerns in which Indians were evil savages. There's plenty of big ideas going on right now, all the author is revealing is the not-so-new trend of the media being too lazy to go look for it.

On modern heroes & the democratisation of cult (2)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106146)

I would say that the dearth of grand-visions problem is twofold:
- One one side, is the widespread, modern concept of the "hero", the one people others look up to. The "heroes" of today are sportsman and celebrities, not thinkers or explorers which both feeds and reflects a society that values luck, inherent ability and monetary success above all.
- On the other side is the democratisation of culture, where everybody is supposed to have a voice and (unsurprisingly) those who think the least, react the fastest, use the shortest soundbites and shout the most drown out those who actually think about things.

We're not even having the same conversation (3, Insightful)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 3 years ago | (#37106204)

People are just doing their own shit. There can't be era-defining ideas because all the different little conversations we're having don't even connect anymore. For an idea to make an impact on society, we first need a society that's more or less on the same page. That's what's missing. Sure, the internet makes everything easier, including the communication of ideas. Just look at or bigthink or TED. You can fill every free minute listening to brilliant people talk about some pretty deep ideas. But what you can't expect is that these ideas will be a part of some larger social conversation. They happen off to the side somewhere. My academic friends and I give a fuck, but not many other people do. Or maybe they do, but they have no idea that I do too, because nobody can assume anymore that the people standing around the watercooler read the same "ideas" books, saw the same "ideas" discussion - or even the same news program. Only events are a part of our common culture, so you can talk to anyone about Breivik, or dumping Bin Laden's body in the sea, or the future of the Euro. But there are very few ideas in general social circulation, apart from maybe stuff about Keynsian interventions and other macroeconimic stuff. These are big ideas for sure, but nobody I know (myself included) feels like they have any solid understanding of what's involved. Macroeconomics looks like voodoo, so it's hard to talk about while feeling like you're having an informed conversation.

It's not just nostalgia or some historical distortion that things were different between the two world wars. There was relativity, Communism, anarchism, feminism/sufferage, the uncertainty principle, Bauhaus functionalism and a dozen other art "schools" organized around ideas, the incompleteness theorem, Freud, social Darwinism, logical positivism... and I really could go on and on. And cafes were abuzz with conversation about this very stuff. Not everyone had an opinion about all of it, but everyone did have an opinion about some of it, and it was in your face, because people took it as obvious that these aren't just ideas. Each one you accept gives you an obligation to act, and these actions were impossible to miss for anyone who lived in a major European or North American city. Things really are quite different now. Big ideas are still being thought, but somewhere out of sight. Which means that they don't get a chance to get "big" in the same way they used to be.

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