What is the Conversation?

What do Pythagoras, Thomas Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton have in common? The Conversation.

At countless historical moments, powerful minds have come together to fundamentally rethink their worlds. Confronting the problems of their eras, they have torn apart inherited ideas of morality, science, government, and nature. They have dethroned truths, combined old thoughts, and created new ideas that become the truths of subsequent generations. People having conversations ask: “how do we get there?” People having The Conversation ask: “where are we going and why?”

There is no historical precedent for many of the issues we face today. Scientific advancement has opened up a multitude of new ethical questions, from the genetic modification of food to the use of robots in war. Details of our lives are being aggregated and sorted, forcing new questions about privacy and civil liberties. The world’s population is supported by a frail infrastructure that could buckle under the strain of an economic crisis, widespread social unrest, or environmental changes.

The scale and pace of change can feel overwhelming and uncontrolled. In America, a sense of disquiet may be the only common denominator in a sharply divided populace. This alarm is well founded—we can sense that our greatest threats come from within, yet we fight bitterly over details of the status quo rather than asking hard questions about the logic that brought us here. We need to look beyond the present and ask what kind of future we want. We need The Conversation.

The Conversation is a new type of media project. It’s not journalism, documentary, or oral history. Instead, it is an asynchronous conversation about the future between a cross-section of American thinkers and you, our participants on the web. Aengus is going to be traveling America from May to December, posting a conversation per week and carrying ideas from one interviewee to the next. As Aengus travels, you will be able to join the conversation online, commenting on specific interviews and suggesting themes and questions for Aengus to pursue in upcoming interviews. Want to hear more about community? Media? The ethical assumptions of different interviewees? Let us know. You can also suggest potential interviewees and, if they are available and Aengus has time, we will try to bring their voices into the project. We want The Conversation be an inclusive, living project–nobody has a monopoly on dreaming about the future.