Far from living in a post-idea world, we’re creating a world so thoroughly saturated with new ideas that we’re shedding the need to distinguish them as ideas in the first place. Thought is everywhere; new ideas are springing up every day, and getting tested and tapered and honed; and they are, far from inculcating apathy, inciting revolutions both literal and figurative, around the world and across the web. That’s what Gabler forgets: Ideas don’t need to be branded as such to change the course of history.
Why does Gabler expound the abundance of information but fail to consider an abundance of ideas? Gabler sees information as competition for ideas, but it can also be fuel for them.
And while social media may not have enlarged Gabler’s intellectual universe, it has massively enlarged mine. Thanks to Twitter specifically, I’ve been able to meet tons of fascinatingly smart people I never would have met otherwise. Sure, not all of it is brilliant talk, but Gabler seems to make the same fundamental error that so many “back in my day” people make: which is to assume that because a tool can be used for random conversation that somehow cancels out intelligent conversation. I can talk about the sandwich I ate for lunch and I can discuss big intellectually stimulating ideas.
A ton of insightful and valuable thought happens on social media sites. While they can be a distraction, they are also an unprecedented platform for the cultivation and sharing of ideas. “…you can’t think and tweet at the same time either, not because it is impossible to multitask but because tweeting, which is largely a burst of either brief, unsupported opinions or brief descriptions of your own prosaic activities, is a form of distraction or anti-thinking,” writes Gabler. While this is an accurate representation of a portion of Twitter users, it’s hardly the only way the service is used. There are plenty of intelligent, insightful, influential thinkers on Twitter. Granted, there may not be much room for big ideas in 140 characters — but to claim that “you can’t think and tweet at the same time” is quite an exaggeration. Tweeting can be thinking. As I wrote earlier, I find Twitter to be an excellent way to capture ideas as they come. Ideas that were once surfaced only fleetingly in conversation now have a more accessible, permanent place to be presented.
Social media like Twitter and YouTube create an incredible opportunity for ideas to gain traction and for people to be influential. A failure to recognize this does not reflect on the worthlessness of social media, but on a misinterpretation of its potential and a perspective skewed by inefficient utilization.