The Aspen Ideas Festival

For the second year, The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute collaborated in July to host the Aspen Ideas Festival, which gathers scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, religious figures, and others for a week of conversation and debate. Participants contribute provocative ideas from their fields, and discuss the world, both as it is and as it might become. Following are some excerpts from this year's discussion.
Bill Joy
on the Internet and education

Joy, the cofounder of Sun Microsystems, dismissed the suggestion that the online communities formed around Internet games and LiveJournal pages could provide an educational boost for America’s young people.

This all … sounds like a gigantic waste of time. If I was competing with the United States, I would love to have the students I was competing with spending their time on this kind of crap … [P]eople are fooling themselves that they’re being creative in these spaces … [T]he standard of creativity in the world, to be competitive and be a great designer, is very hard: you have to go to school; you have to apprentice; you have to do hard things. It’s not about, your friends like something you did. So I think this is setting a false expectation: you can create your own island and people come to it in a video game … and I don’t see any correlation between that and what it’s gonna take to be a designer and have a skill set to succeed in the world. So I go back to what I said before: we’re amusing ourselves to death; there are good uses of this technology, and I don’t see this as a good use of the technology …

[T]he real problem is, by democratizing speech and the ability to post, we’ve lost the gradation for quality. The gradation of quality was always based on the fact that words had weight—it cost money to move them around. So there was back pressure against … junk …

[U]ltimately, not everyone can have a million readers, because all the readers have run out of time. So it’s a false promise to people, that they can get the big audience. Because in the end—once [you’ve] gotten to the years when you’ve got a job, you’ve gotta raise your kids—you’re not gonna have time for this.

Shashi Tharoor
on terrorism

Tharoor, a candidate to be the next UN secretary-general, argued that it would be a mistake for the United States to allow its foreign policy to be defined by the war on terrorism.

I think it would be tragically self-limiting. I think the U.S. has far bigger and larger issues in the world that it needs to be concerned with. I believe this issue remains vital. I believe that all the instruments of state that are being applied to prevent the next 9/11—and to take action against those who might one day attempt to perpetrate it—are indispensable and must continue, but it would be a shame if the U.S. and its posture in the world were limited to this one thing alone. The U.S. stands for far more in the world than resistance to terror … I think you are far too [great] a country to be defined merely by the enemies you seek to fight.

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