The Conversation

What do Pythagoras, Mao Zedong, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson have in common? The Conversation.

This May--which is now terrifyingly close--I am going to launch my next project.  It's called The Conversation and, essentially, it's a search for the next normal.  Here's the central concept:

At different moments in history, people have fundamentally rethought their worlds.  Old ideas, long considered true or normal, are placed under the microscope to reveal how strange they really are.  New ideas are debated, adopted, abandoned, refined, implemented and, eventually, wind up as a new normality.

The Conversation is the moment when common sense is pulled off the shelf for a rewrite.

Conversations happen all the time, but The Conversation is rare--throwing away old truths is scary and new ideas can explode in unexpected directions.  In one historical moment, The Conversation can yield the idea of inalienable human rights while, in another, it can unveil the guillotine.  To take this risk, there has to be a widespread sense that something fundamental needs to change, even if that "something" is ill-defined.  Change is dangerous, but it can also be the only hope for improvement.

I want to apply this idea to our world, today.  We live far from any historical precedents--our colossal population is supported by a frail scaffolding of logistics that, currently, rests on sinking energy reserves.  Our inherited systems of government and economics have grown with us, but they are increasingly divorced from the people whose lives they purportedly serve.  Our traditional religions seem out of place in a world of science, but an understanding of the physical world has not offered us a new moral system.  Technological change is profoundly shaping how we know the world and live together, yet only a few elites are discussing its ramifications.  We are changing our climate, a process that leaves us alarmed even as we are unwilling to change our behaviors.  Across the political spectrum, Americans are disquieted.

This seems like a moment with enough big issues to warrant The Conversation--but is it happening?  If it exists, I want to find out who is having it and where.  If it doesn't exist, I want to know why.  Are our challenges overblown?  Or do we need The Conversation and we just aren't ready to have it?  Have changes in technology or culture made The Conversation harder or easier to start?

To explore this, I will be collaborating with my friend Micah Saul.  We've been talking about The Conversation for years and, coming from the tech industry, he brings a very different set of experiences to the project.  The Conversation will reflect this: it's going to be a new media type, a combination of the online and the offline, an asynchronous conversation about our future as a country and a planet.

I will spend five months traveling America and interviewing some of our most divergent thinkers while Micah runs the website and maps how their ideas fit together.  We'll bring ideas from one interview into the next but, just as importantly, we will bring your ideas into the interviews, too.  Issues discussed on our website will have a direct influence on how I interview--and even who I interview.

Audio interviews, web discussion, knowledge maps: all of these project elements are well known but, to the best of our knowledge, they have never been combined to form a project like this.  It should be fun.

Who are we going to be interviewing?  Micah and I are finishing up research and have been sending out our first invitations to join The Conversation.  At the moment, we know that we'll be speaking to:

Douglas Rushkoff (author of Life, Inc.)
Jan Lundberg (former oil industry analyst-turned environmental/energy activist)
Laura Musikanski (co-founder of the Seattle Happiness Initiative)
Colin Camerer (neuroeconomist at the California Institute of Technology)

This list should be growing longer every few days.  I'll keep you updated.

We are working with an awesome web designer on the site but, if you're looking for more information about the project, you can visit the placeholder I created.

More soon.