What is the Ideaplex?
I've been thinking for some time that the terms “traditional media” and “social media” are obsolete, since all methods of communication and idea distribution overlap and intertwine. Almost everything that originates offline is also online and almost everything that starts online can also be taken offline in some form or other. Even when you clump the social and traditional media together, you're still missing a lot of activities, channels, and content venues that are involved with the creation, distribution, and consumption of ideas.
I think of it all as the ideaplex. (Plex is short for plexus, which means, according to the OED: “Any intertwined or interwoven mass; an intricate arrangement or collection of things; a network.”) The ideaplex is big business, lower and higher education, 24x7 entertainment, and one of America's most distinctive features. It is very easy, if you're not careful, to think of it as just about everything. The ideaplex comprises at least the following elements:
- Twitterverse and blogosphere and YouTubeLandia. An unknowable volume of exchange. Impossible to keep up with or fathom. Probably 90% recycled or repurposed material, which is all part of the distribution game.
- Eduinfotainment fests. TED, South by Southwest, Aspen Ideas Festival, the World Economic Forum (just completed) all contribute heavily to the swirl of forums, conferences, colloquia, talks. There’s an endless supply of these. Everybody wants to showcase themselves; the debate about them is frequently, “What practical purpose do they serve?” Do they have to serve a purpose?
- Books. Print books, e-books, enhanced e-books, self-published books, unpublished books, Kindle singles. I have heard ranges of anywhere from 400,000-2,000,000 new published titles per year, and that's just in the US. This is why I get anxious whenever I step inside a bookstore. The volume is so crushing it builds the power of lists and bestsellers and book group selections. Sometimes I just wander into a bookstore looking for a book that no one has recommended to me, is not a staff pick, and that I have never heard of. I buy it based on the cover and the first paragraph.
- Educational system. Colleges, universities, massive online open courses, continuing education, private instruction, seminars, retreats. You can learn about anything, anytime, anywhere from almost anyone. We all love learning. Our brains are overflowing with knowledge. Sometimes it's just a bunch of stuff, however, without much cohesion from idea to idea.
- Professional idea cooker-uppers. Think tanks, design firms, research houses, consultancies, coaches, and gurus. We are getting heavily weighted toward the front end development of ideas and execution is taking a back seat. This could be a problem someday. Maybe today.
- More-or-less traditional media such as magazines and newspapers, movies, television. There is still a lot of action in these content venues, even the most local of which contributes to the ideaplex. But a large percentage of talk shows and print and online media pick up on the work of a very small number of original content creators. Take away the New York Times and NPR and you'd hear a lot more silence.
- Curators, analysts, synthesizers, pundits, commentariat. Arising as a result of the ideaplex, and fervently contributing to it, are the columnists, provocateurs, filters, and recommenders who weigh in on, validate, and discredit the ideas flowing through the ideaplex. Some have large platforms, some do not, but everybody's a commentator.
It all adds up to a wild, rich flow of real ideas; new-sounding ideas that are actually old; old ideas with new twists; ersatz ideas; ideas about ideas. No other country has an ideaplex like the one we have in the United States, with all its madness and blessing.