Friday, December 11, 2009

Here’s to Big Thinking

In a blogosphere honeycombed with knuckleheads and mountebanks aiding and abetting a level of discourse that delights in bad spelling, bad manners and shouting in capital letters, you come to treasure the oasis of a Web site that offers a place to think, and to enjoy the company of others who do, fiercely, imaginatively, the same thing.

It’s been almost two years since the launch of BigThink, a "global forum connecting people and ideas." The Web site started in January 2008 by Victoria Brown and Peter Hopkins, two former producers of PBS' "Charlie Rose," has garnered a sturdy following with smart, polished design; a comfortable look & feel; and more than 700 video-driven commentaries from some of the more consequential writers, artists and scholars of our time. The result: a genuine refuge for anyone seeking to put distance between themselves and the CAPS LOCK cognoscente.

Two recent examples indicate where BigThink has been going from the beginning. There’s an interview with Dr. Cornel West, the dearly beloved scholar, author, intellectual and cultural flamethrower. In the November interview, West holds forth on the blues, intellectuals’ betrayal of the poor, and the leadership of President Obama in a 33-minute interview you don’t have to digest all at once; BT has broken it down into bite-size chunks, any of which is an intellectual meal of itself.

John Irving, the celebrated novelist and essayist whose fiction is among the creatively sturdiest work in contemporary American literature, is asked what advice he’d give a young untried writer today.

Irving, interviewed in November, is downbeat, which is to say more than you might expect from one of today’s more critically and commercially recognized authors. Elsewhere, though, Irving speaks of the other, various dividends of his profession, including the challenge of writing the final sentence of a book, and the joys of beginning a new one.

There’s plenty more on this groaning board: pithy Afrocentric blog posts from Kris Broughton (aka Brown Man Thinking Hard);
interviews with actress-playwright Anna Deavere Smith; Seattle-based author Sherman Alexie, Wired editor Chris Anderson, author Gay Talese and theater critic Terry Teachout, for example. All in all, a feast at another kind of welcome table. And damn welcome it is.

BigThink has been called “YouTube for intellectuals,.” But that unnecessary reach for association with a wider demographic seriously overstates BT’s true scope, numerically and content-wise. The underlying principle here is quality, then quantity, and in our 24/7-soapbox age, that can be a refreshing thing. Rest assured, on BigThink you won’t see videos of Noam Chomsky’s Chihuahua tap-dancing on the kitchen tiles.

It’s a tribute to the necessity of the BigThink business model that the site has so far managed to not just survive but apparently thrive in an increasingly stratified online editorial world. Internet time makes dog years look like an eternity. Happy (upcoming) birthday BT; here’s to many more.

Image credits: Anna Deavere Smith, Cornel West and John Irving: BigThink.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Mike - looks like it is going to be a fun ride over at Big Think.

    The challenge right now is building an audience for my blog over there, which is titled "Resurgence".

    Kris Broughton
    Brown Man Thinking Hard


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