What’s the Big Idea?

20 Sep

What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?

Illustrators and scholars responded to this thought-provoking question in an anniversary issue of the The Chronicle Review (September 3, 2010).   Their answers include several commentaries on computer-based innovations that could threaten humanity, increase access and open cultures, or expand data for research and communication.  Other big ideas include the extinction of the middle class and the objective study of subjectivity.  Interdisciplinarity is the theme of Elaine Howard Ecklund’s essay arguing that meeting scholarly and public challenges may require abandoning disciplines so scholars can think beyond old boundaries.  I believe that significant interdisciplinary advances are possible when scholars collaborate across disciplines and are receptive to thinking and discussing ideas in ways that are informed by and enhanced by their relationships.  This does not require a scholar to leave behind the core discipline to engage in interdisciplinary work. I was surprised to see that globalization does not make it on the list of big ideas (although there are global implications of a number of the ideas that are identified).  I’m fascinated by an illustration that suggests energy is the big idea and attributes many of the pressing problems (e.g., wars, melting ice caps, international terrorism) to this source.   Others might reframe this big idea as the increasing focus on environmental issues and sustainability.

What big idea would you include?


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