How, then, does the Reader ethos fit into the brave new world of digital news consumption? Conventional wisdom might hold that a 41-year-old publication that once printed a 20,000-word story about beekeeping is in trouble. It would seem that the smartphone and the social networks are killing our soul. They’re not. In fact, they might save it.
Why hasn't the economy grown faster since the big crash in 2008, and how can it now? That's as much the job of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, as the president's. A scholar of the Great Depression, Bernanke had the Fed prevent inflation risked by the bailouts Bush and Obama approved so the economy wouldn't crash like it did 80 years prior. While the record-low interest rates he put in place may have staved off worse damage by priming investment in the private sector, they didn't convince businesses to scale back to prerecession levels—unemployment remains high, and after a couple of years that started to bother some economists, like Paul Krugman, who point out that the Fed is mandated to balance unemployment as well as inflation. Last month, Bernanke caved, and to combat unemployment he's turned to a promising idea developed here, by Chicago Fed president Charles Evans. The day Bernanke announced the aggressive bond-buying program tied to employment numbers that Evans had boosted for two years now, the stock market jumped like a frog for a fly, and I'm surprised more people in Chicago haven't been gloating about it.
I keep meaning to test this experiment, but I never think to grab a spoon when I'm tired. Still, I love the final thoughts that materialize before sleep, which are slightly more concrete than dreams (and thus more receptive to conscious manipulation) but share dreams' liberating illogic. It's possible that none of these thoughts are especially coherent; my vague memories of them have more to do with their flow than their content. And sharing enough bedrooms over the years has taught me that what a person considers astute when he's falling asleep might strike him as gibberish when he's fully awake—statements like "No, you're my lion," to quote my first college roommate.
If Chicago Ideas Week has any precedent, it's transparently the TED talks, traveling, videotaped "webinars" wherein a variety of people give oddly new-agey presentations about big, unwieldy topics. In other words: glorified Introduction to Philosophy classes. TED talks, as have already been recounted elsewhere, have become viral Internet memes. This nascent industry seems to have spawned competitors with its success, and Chicago Ideas Week is our local edition. And how was this conference able to book so many famous people? It's sponsored by J.P. Morgan, which is presumably footing the bill.
All week long, check back here for writing about ideas, which will be about ideas and possibly about this new notion of "ideas," where talks about inspiration and ungraspable topics are packaged and disseminated as ways to spend your time. And in case you missed it, go here to read writing from Marathon Week, last week's Variations on a Theme.