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Festival of Ideas 'Our World'

The World is a metaphor that stretches conveniently in many directions. In the first place it is our planet: a place that gets progressively smaller and more crowded as the years progress. Also, however, it is our immediate milieu, the world in which each individual lives their life. 

Jane Austen wrote of “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush”, meaning the exquisitely small social circle of which she writes in her novels. But in that sense our individual worlds have become a lot larger and, arguably, more empty: we can have contacts in many countries with many differing social backgrounds. We are becoming true citizens of the world, but we pay a cost in terms of the intimacy of our relationships with other people. 

The paradox of a world that is both expanding and contracting, becoming more populous yet ultimately more empty is part of the challenge of twentieth century life which so many of our speakers will address in this week’s Festival of Ideas at King’s High. As our technology has advanced and our means of communication become more complex, our habitat has become more fragile. 

Information has massively expanded, thanks to the internet, but digital information has also become the greatest disseminator of falsehoods in human history. Our cities, born out of the immense expansion of industry and manufacture, have become the engines for the Covid-19 epidemic. There is no part of our society and biosphere that is not at once an asset and a threat. 

King's is privileged to host this symposium from 16-20 November, in which our speakers will approach ways of imagining our world from very different disciplines & standpoints. I hope that they will open our eyes to the many different worlds that we casually hope to capture in that deceptive phrase: “our world”. 

Caroline Renton