What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

The War Over Ebooks: Update

February 5, 2010, 3:45 PM

Now that Amazon has shown it can and will cut off access to its stock of books whenever it pleases, the Authors Guild has created this tool for writers. Register at whomovedmybuybutton?.com and you'll be alerted when Amazon abruptly stops selling your work. It's a clever move, which shows the Authors Guild has learned a thing or two about asymmetrical warfare since its public shoving match with Amazon eight years ago.

Then, Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, stirred up a mob of pitchfork-and-torch wielding book buyers, who crashed the Guild's servers with their angry emails. They believed Amazon's claim that it's the reader's champion, fighting greedy obstructionists who want people to pay too much for books (the argument was over Amazon selling used copies of books even when authors were still trying to sell new ones). This month, the author's group played a better game (full disclosure: I'm not involved in any way with the Guild's policies or tactics, but I am a member). It has managed to avoid being framed as the guy sues the neighbors because their baseball landed on his lawn. Now it's positioned itself as the neighbor who wants to help you stop Bezos from bulldozing your house.

Of course, it helps that last week Amazon took thuggish tactics to a new low, when it yanked all Macmillan books' "Buy" buttons because the publisher wants to renegotiate ebook sales. Macmillan authors have no control or say in this fight, so Amazon's willingness to block their sales didn't play well. Though some seemingly smart people drank the company Kool-Aid, many others have seen through the "reader's Robin Hood" pose.

Robin Hood, after all, took from the rich and gave to the poor. Full stop. He didn't come around the next week to take back the family cow and the new stewpot. But Amazon, as Tobias Buckell points out, sells its eBooks with Digital Rights Management protection that gives it total control over the text.

You think you own a copy of 1984 or Animal Farm, but Amazon can (and has) locked people out of the books they paid for (yes, the books were 1984 and Animal Farm--you cannot make this stuff up). The ePub format Apple uses for its ebooks permits publishers to use DRM, but it doesn't require it. So which company would you trust to safeguard access to your books? The one that declares it can make the text go pfffft at any time? Or the one that is at least willing to sell books without keeping that power?

Nobody should blame Amazon for trying to protect its own interests. But when it talks like Gandalf ("Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission") it's asserting that its interests align with the Good and the Right. Which, if true, would be a compelling reason to pick up a flaming torch and go crash some bad guy's server. That's why Amazon can be blamed for talking like Gandalf while acting like Sauron: A phrase like "fundamental good" will stir up the mob against your opponents (the enemies of the good! Get them!) but the cost to society is high.

First, there are those flaming torches and waving pitchforks in the public square, where people ought to be having a calm and rather technical conversation about managing the interests of creators, publishers, sellers and buyers in a time of technological change. Second, the more things are described as "fundamentally good," the less the phrase means, and the less helpful it is in situations where good and bad are really at stake.

So it's fair to call out Saruman.com for trying to introduce the language of good and evil into a business negotiation, and for dressing up like the authors' champion even as it chokes off some authors' income and reserves the right to do the same to others tomorrow. The Authors Guild's new site is light on loaded words, preferring to stick to the bald facts: Either a "Buy" button is on a page, or it isn't. That's good for the book industry. And it's smart tactics.


The War Over Ebooks: Update

Newsletter: Share: