Even though we’re staring into the future, in the area of technology, at the intellectual level, we’ve regressed to the Middle Ages, an epoch marked by blind faith, intellectual lethargy, and the absence of a spirit of inquiry, notes Neal Gabler, in the New York Times op-ed, “The Elusive Big Idea.”
It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument, and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion, and orthodoxy.
Thanks largely to the Internet, we have more information than ever, the flow of truly breathtaking ideas that have intellectual vision has dwindled to a drop.
What’s more, even the greatest innovations of our times, lack gravity and grandeur as they once did.
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.
No idea, hypothesis, or theory, is as paradigm-shifting as these: “the medium is the message,” “the feminine mystique,” “the Big Bang theory,” “the end of history.” These ideas were famous in themselves.
It’s not that the great minds of today are any less intellectually inferior to their predecessors, but they don’t care enough about ideas that aren’t instant money-spinners.
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.
In the past, information gathering was only a means to an end.
We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful—into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas.
Now, we collect information for the sake of collection. Moreover, the very action of finding and collecting is so energy-sapping that we’re left with little time to mull over what we’ve collected.
We’re 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.