The Meme and The IdeaFestival

Can we still tolerate ambiguity?

The last sentence in the following quote says something important about the nature of journalistic success in a world emulsified with social media, and about its relationship to complex ideas.

Annalee Newitz on "Viral Journalism and the Valley of Ambiguity:"

Sharing a story means that in some sense we stake our reputation on it. That's why sharing a story is not the same thing as enjoying a story, reading a story, or even learning from a story.

I know for certain that there are plenty of stories that get read, but not shared. I have seen the statistics on io9's back end. But when we measure a story's success by virility, which is what we must do in the age of social media, the content of our popular culture changes. We measure success by what people aren't afraid to share with their neighbors, rather than what people will read on their own.

Newitz traces success in the journalistic process from "meme" to "valley of ambiguity" to "truth-telling." It was her point above about digital culture and what gets passed along that really grabbed my attention. Deeply immersed in social media, like her, I sometimes wonder whether, despite the scale of information being shared, the wider conversation has taken on a bland similitude, a dull sameness, and whether we have lost patience with complexity or ambiguity.

At the IdeaFestival, we don't ask people to share the stories they hear because they confirm an existing bias, or because no one would dare question something she heard at IdeaFestival - or for that matter at an IF University event or IF Lexington (stay tuned!). As Kris Kimel has said many times, we don't do tracks. The sheer variety of people and stories are staggering. And because of the breadth of the information one is likely to encounter at the IdeaFestival, a prior understanding may be challenged.

I like to think of the festival as a place where you can "read on your own." And in fact, the IdeaFestival has succeeded because of great listeners and readers, people able to suspend judgement long enough for a speaker to be heard, who will listen for a bit longer and who understand - thank goodness! - that the world isn't limited to what they may understand at any single moment in time.

I like to think that the IdeaFestival is about this too.

Stay curious.


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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by whatleydude