We asked philosopher and writer James Harkin, author of Big Ideas and Cyburbia to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…

Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
The idea of an electronic information loop that we spend a great deal of our time hooked up to, responding to a continuous stream of information and batting back a continuous stream of feedback – what that does us to us, our sensibilities and our outlook on the world.

What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
Clay Shirky told me that he’s writing about the idea of a ‘cognitive surplus’ – the idea, bluntly put, that we have more mental space than we need, and that it can be put to use by organisations on the net. It got me thinking that ‘dead time’ – the time we spend day-dreaming or lost in contemplation – might soon be a thing of the past. From now on we’re going to be lost in Cyburbia instead.

What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
It’s tempting to say Das Kapital, but since everyone’s saying that I’d go for something a little more recherche – Marshall Berman’s beautifully written ode to radical modernismAll That Is Sold Melts Into Air. In 2009 it might be reread as a hymn to the exhilaration to be had by anyone with a new idea when the status quo (and its financial system, and its mainstream Vmedia) is crashing into pieces all around you.


Further information/

James Harkin is Director of Talks at the ICA in London and writes regularly for theGuardian and the Financial Times. He was the associate producer of Adam Curtis’s three-part series, The Trap: What Happened to our Dream of Freedom?, which aired on BBC2 in March 2007. His book, Big Ideas: The Essential Guide To The Latest Thinking(based on his columns for the Guardian), was published in February 2008. His new book Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea that’s Changing How we Live and Who We Are, was published in February 2009 by Little Brown. James appears at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on 12th May.

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