What's The Big Idea: Aspen Ideas Fest, Day 1

07/06/2010 02:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On the way into idyllic Aspen, I started thinking about these annual gatherings of brilliant, innovative, cutting edge minds, and the Big Ideas they share, and the collegial interaction among the attendees as well as speakers. And I wondered, how can this immense intellectual and inspirational resource, this vital natural resource, be harnessed for the common good so that everyone in the country can be exposed to it, not just the few of us privileged to attend such events.

Sure, everyone can watch the videos and read about the speakers on The Aspen Institute. Or even on their cool new Mobile App. But something gets lost in the translation from the live experience. It's a 'you had to be there' kind of thing.

I decided not to worry about the longer view, and just enjoy being in the moment. But much to my happy surprise, right off the bat on Day One came a really good news example of how the expansion might unfold.

At the opening presentation, we learned about the Bezos Scholars Program at Aspen that brings 12 of the country's top public high school juniors to the Festival; not only exposing them to the mental stimulation on display here but motivating them to return home and start local Ideas Festivals of their own, often enlisting grade schoolers as well. One I took particular note of is the "I Feel The Need To Read" campaign. Passing it forward. Fantastic.

Another of ten inspiring mini-speeches in the opening session came from Vivian Schiller, president of NPR. She sang the high praises of Public Media -- ranging from PBS stations to NPR outlets, to the many and growing non-profit news and journalism websites starting to emerge. And she talked about how these non-commercial players, along with engaged citizens, need to partner with each other to pick up the slack of serious journalism caused by the shrinking role of newspapers in our society. A place where the kind of civil, unbiased journalism defined by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel can thrive -- "to provide citizens with the information they need need to be free and self-governing."

Self-Governing. I love those two words.

One final one that struck me was from Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., our Surgeon General, who spoke movingly from the heart about her efforts to inspire a more holistic approach to community health -- to move us from a sickcare system, to one of wellness and prevention. Let's hope she gets all the support she needs for that, as it would represent the single biggest improvement we could make to the nation's health, and to radically reducing health care costs.

There was more, and equally worthy, but those were the highlights for me in the first few hours. Can't wait to see what a full day's worth of presentations will bring. And if we'll hear about any other projects designed to "share the wealth" of these big ideas.

Till then...