Are great ideas always great?

Yesterday I peeled back the pages of Steven Johnson’s new book “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.” I read lots of books like his, which got me thinking about books in general.

I come from a small town, Ephrata Washington, population 5,000. When I was growing up I split my time between school, sports and church. I dreamed of a life that was different, but the path I was on was same-o, same-o. When I was about 20 years old I had a hard think about the life I was living, and the life I wanted to live. There were two points of obvious difference: education and culture.

So, I went to college where I split my time between classic literature, philosophy and art. Then I traveled, and traveled some more. Today I have the life I dreamed of. My walls at home are lined with hundreds of books, each one a symbol of a long and deliberate journey towards another kind of life.

My dad came to visit me last weekend. He comes from a small town just like me and still lives there, Ephrata Washington, population 5,000.  We do “city stuff’ when he visits. This time we went to the Apple store where I invested in a new iPod Nano; the fact that an entire music library can fit into someone’s pocket still amazes me, my dad too.

As I sat reading Johnson’s book about where good ideas come from, I thought about what a great idea the iPod was. Which made me wonder, are great ideas always great ideas, or are great ideas actually relative? I think the latter.

The Kindle is a great idea, but it’s not great for me.  I think about buying one once in awhile because like the iPod, it’s kind of amazing, but books interest me too much to tuck away. Books are the guideposts of my life; they represent not only my journey, but also the foundation of my character. As a collection, they are mine and they are me. But, if a library only exists on a device and no one is really around to see it (insert any human perception here), does it actually exist?

For me the answer is no.

As my dad was leaving he gave me a big hug. Over his shoulder, tucked in between Sartre’s “No Exit” and “The Wall,” Simone de Beauvior’s “The Mandarins” caught my eye.  It was love at 100th sight.

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