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

Gopnik Versus Shirky on the Promise of Technology

February 15, 2011, 4:00 PM

Adam Gopnik takes no prisoners in surveying the latest technology books in The New Yorker this week. For one thing, Gopnik discovers that, paradoxically, all these new books amount to "a series of books explaining why books no longer matter." And from this "ever expanding literature" Gopnik delineates three types, to which he gives the following funny-sounding names: Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. He writes:

"The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened...The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment."

Gopnik places N.Y.U. professor Clay Shirky and his book "Cognitive Surplus" squarely in the ranks of the Never-Betters, due to Shirky's belief in "an ever-surging wave of democratized information." And Gopnik is not a fan of this, casting a critical eye on Shirky's writing to expose what he sees as an underlying flaw: "There is an element of overdone provocation in his stuff (So people aren’t reading Tolstoy? Well, Tolstoy sucks) that suggests something a little nervous going on underneath."

As for what is happening underneath, Gopnik derides the work of writers like Shirky as the "Wired version of Whig history," or worse, it is history "taken from the back of a cereal box." Gopnik is taking explicit aim at what he sees as overzealous utopianism. He writes: "The idea, for instance, that the printing press rapidly gave birth to a new order of information, democratic and bottom-up, is a cruel cartoon of the truth."

Is Gopnik being fair? You be the judge. Here is Shirky in his own words, explaining his notion of "cognitive surplus."


Gopnik Versus Shirky on the...

Newsletter: Share: