16 June 2009 8:00 AM
What's the best idea you've ever had? What's the worst? Is there anything big or small that you'd love for someone to invent? How did people illustrate the act of having an idea prior to the light bulb? Instead of flying cars, why not planes that drive better? Why do so many ideas occur in the shower?
These are the questions that occurred to me immediately after I found out I'd be writing a blog about ideas for The Atlantic Online. I jotted them down in a notebook. Naturally, it wasn't on hand the next afternoon when I found myself waiting for a friend at a Los Angeles café. What I discovered, once the waitress lent me a pen, is that necessity is the mother of writing on napkins. These I stuffed into my pockets, the fragile squares overflowing with frenetically scrawled brilliance I thrilled at sharing. Could a single blog contain them? Alas, we'll never know: into the wash went the pants and around they spun. Once in the dryer the napkins separated into pieces so small that picking them from the surrounding load took an hour. Ideas survive laundering about as well as insights from social science survive the legislative process.
One funny thing about ideas is how difficult they can be to recover once forgotten. Luckily each day is rife with new insights, and the ones you'll get here mostly wound up in that notebook after all. Repeat visitors to this blog will see several regular features -- "Idea in the News," a daily look at some notion pulled from the current events; a "Quote of the Day" and a "Video of the Day" on the subject of ideas, broadly construed; "Ideas in the Archives," a look back at some of the best think pieces ever to appear in The Atlantic; occasional Q&As wherein I press smart people on what's occupying their minds; and if my readers help out, a sample of your e-mails on any topic related to the life of the mind, and specifically about the worst ideas you've ever run across (more about that in a minute).
Beyond the recurring features, I'll engage whatever conversations are happening in the blogosphere, or at least the ones that dovetail with this project. One theme I hope to tackle repeatedly is the way that political and cultural ideas spread in a democracy. I make my living as a journalist partly because I believe that public discourse acts as a crucible for free people. It tests our notions, destroys the worst, and strengthens the best -- or it does so when it functions properly. Unfortunately, I think that America's national conversation is in a bad way. More on that later too.
I encourage readers to comment (civilly!), and to e-mail me often. As noted, one sort of e-mail I'd love to get is anything nominating a "Worst Idea Ever." Interpret that liberally. I'm eager to receive a paragraph or two on bad historical ideas, bad ideas you've had in your own life, bad ideas observed at the workplace or in your field, unfortunate trends in the culture, anecdotes about bad ideas -- silly and serious, short and long, whatever you've got send it my way. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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