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
With rendition switcher


Question: Tell us about your blog “The Age of Engagement.”

Matthew Nisbet: Well "The Age of Engagement" is going to cover the many intersections among communication, culture and public affairs.  Over the last decade as many viewers and readers know there has been a fundamental revolution in how we communicate.  The people formally known as the audience are no longer just passive consumers of information, they’re active contributors. And almost every sector of society has been altered and transformed by the digital age and there is fundamental questions about these transformations.  In particular is the public and groups that were formerly locked out of power, consumers.  Are they empowered by these changes or are they distracted and more easily controlled?  Do we live in an age of engagement or do we live in an age of distraction? 

So from politics to science to health to the environment to culture and entertainment I’m going to take a look at the way that communication has changed these sectors of society and fundamentally the way that we live. And I’m going to take a look at those things from the perspective of a social scientist drawing on studies, drawing on data and drawing on the perspectives of my colleagues, researchers, faculty, as well as the voices and the perspectives of the students, so readers will be able to eavesdrop in and read about the many different types of conversations that are going on in the university classroom in the field of communication, in the field of political science, and other related academic fields.  

What’s an example of the public actually influencing a policy decision?

Matthew Nisbet:  Sure.  I think, you know, one of the leading examples I think was the last time we went for immigration reform in the United States under the Bush Administration.  What was interesting about the attempted immigration reform—and it’s somewhat parallel to the failed attempt at climate change legislation—is that there was majority public opinion support to broker an agreement on immigration reform in Congress.  The President was behind the agreement as well, yet despite a majority support among a relatively passive public, legislation was ultimately defeated. And the reason was you had this interaction between at the time the influence of the traditional conservative media, political talk radio and cable news and the ability for people who felt strongly opposed to immigration reform to voice their opinion through emails to members of Congress, and through a lot of online coordination that was hooked up to these different types of traditional media outlets and it was because of that opinion pressure from a minority viewpoint that legislation ultimately failed.  Fence-sitters in congress were unwilling to take the political risks that were needed to pass immigration reform at that time.

Recorded on July 28, 2010

Interviewed by Paul Hoffman


Is This an Age of Engagemen...

Newsletter: Share: