What Will Be the Defining Idea of the Coming Decade?

For the 10th-anniversary issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s The Chronicle Review, the editors asked several scholars for answers to the question: “What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?”

Here’s the list of the people they asked: Jaron Lanier, Daniel J. Solove, Peter Singer, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Gwenda Kaczor, Jonathan Haidt, Parker J. Palmer, Camille Paglia, Yi-Fu Tuan, Michael Glenwood Gibbs, Daniel J. Cohen, James Elkins, Mary Beard, Linda K. Kerber, Geoffrey Moss, Henry Petroski, Alondra Nelson, Brian Knutson, Saleem H. Ali, Steve Brodner, Stephon H.S. Alexander, Steven Landsburg, and Pat Shipman.

You can find all the answers here.

My answer is a short essay called Dizzied by Data. It begins:

In his short story “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges imagined an infinitely large library containing all books. Although the library was wondrous, people had no way of finding the right book. Much like Borges’s library, the information age has presented us with a dizzying amount of data. The past decade witnessed the rise of the interactive Internet—Web 2.0—where people not only consume information but also add to it. Millions of people started blogging; social-networking sites like Facebook amassed half a billion users; and sites like Wikipedia enticed people to collaborate and share their expertise.

To cope with all this data, we created new ways to find it and analyze it. Search engines like Google revolutionized our ability to locate information, and data-mining technologies were developed to detect patterns and make judgments about people’s interests and behavior.

Over the next decade, the ability to search for information and to analyze it will mature dramatically. . . .

For the rest, click here.

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3 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    Daniel, I’m afraid this will sound contentious, and I apologize in advance, because I agree that the issue you mention–what to do about the conflict between information and “privacy”–is an important one. Nevertheless, I think you missed the decade.

    That issue is already in the forefront of our thinking, thanx to the creative developments of the decade just ending. Those engineers who say that “search is only 5% solved” are just that–engineers–who naturally think their engineering advances are what makes the world go round. The world-changing decade of the “atomic age” wasn’t the fifties, when we proliferated hydrogen bombs of incalculable power. It was the forties, when physicists unleashed the power of the atom, even though it was only 1% as powerful as the later weapons.

    My opinion is that the defining idea of the coming decade will be insistence on foresight, responsibility and accountability. The costs of “oops…sorry” are becoming far too great to continue to respond with “Oh, you’re sorry? OK, try to do better next time.”

  2. “the defining idea of the coming decade”

    There are many.
    At the top for Americans could be the question:

    “Why are people allowed to [electronically/virtually] walk unabated into their cyberspace?” Yet, those same people would be labeled terrorists and show up on “no-fly lists” in meat-space.