Socrates and Media in the Online Age

Take a look at this and try and figure out what the author is speaking about:

…this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

ZT421FzYou’d be forgiven for thinking the author is speaking about new media technologies like the Web but in fact this was what Socrates thought about the written word. He worried that our reliance on writing would make us forgetful and that our understanding of the world around us would be superficial as we wouldn’t develop sophisticated and original thoughts.

Sounds a lot like the arguments some people have against online media. Isn’t this similar to a teacher saying, ‘Don’t use Wikipedia because it is not reliable enough’ or Nicholas Carr asking ‘is Google making us stupid’ or even Andrew Keen speaking about how the Internet devalues our society?




Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows and The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.

IIs_Google_making_us_Stupidn this now famous article, Is Google Making Us Stupid, he offers a sceptical look at the online age and the effect the Internet is having on our brains.

You can read the original article from The Atlantic, here, and visit the article’s wikipedia entry here.


Jaron Lanier: the digital pioneer who became a web rebel – interview

Interview with Lanier from The Guardian. Lots of interesting viewpoints about how online media has been having a negative effect on us. Great if you want to argue against all the obvious positives. Click HERE.


An earlier book of his – You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto – argued that the internet was eroding human interaction, stifling creativity and changing us as people. Lanier was particularly scathing about remix culture, which he viewed as not only ethically dubious but also self-defeating in the long run. If we have a world in which original artists cannot earn a living from their work, ultimately we will run out of stuff to remix.


Jaron Lanier & Criticism of Wikipedia & Web 2.0

Jaron Lanier, a computer philosophy writer and artist has been critical of Web 2.0 and mass collaborative ventures like Wikipedia.

In his online essay “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism“, in Edge magazine in May 2006, Lanier criticized the sometimes-claimed omniscience of collective wisdom (including examples such as the Wikipedia article about himself, which he says recurrently exaggerates his film directing work), describing it as “digital Maoism“. 

He writes “If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves into idiots.”

His criticism aims at several targets which concern him and are at different levels of abstraction:

  • any attempt to create one final authoritative bottleneck which channels the knowledge onto society is wrong, regardless whether it is a Wikipedia or any algorithmically created system producing meta information,
  • sterile style of wiki writing is undesirable because:
    • it removes the touch with the real author of original information, it filters the subtlety of his opinions, essential information (for example, the graphical context of original sources) is lost,
    • it creates a false sense of authority behind the information,
  • collective authorship tends to produce or align to mainstream or organizational beliefs,
  • he worries that collectively created works may be manipulated behind the scenes by anonymous groups of editors who bear no visible responsibility,
    • and that this kind of activity might create future totalitarian systems as these are basically grounded on misbehaved collectives which oppress individuals.

This critique is further explored in an interview with him on Radio National‘s The Philosopher’s Zone, where he is critical of the denatured effect which “removes the scent of people”.[17]

In December 2006 Lanier followed up his critique of the collective wisdom with an article in Edge titled “Beware the Online Collective”.[18] Lanier writes:

I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob….What’s to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture? It’s amazing that details in the design of online software can bring out such varied potentials in human behavior. It’s time to think about that power on a moral basis.

Lanier argues that the search for deeper information in any area sooner or later requires that you find information that has been produced by a single person, or a few devoted individuals: “You have to have a chance to sense personality in order for language to have its full meaning.”[13] That is, he sees limitations in the utility of an encyclopedia produced by only partially interested third parties as a form of communication.

Ironically, I took the above from his own Wikipedia entry.


Wikinomics: Four principles for the open world – Don Tapscott

Here’s Tapscott’s talk about the four principals of Wikinomics. Really good as a short piece of revision. Remember, in the exam you must refer to the past, present and future and at least two different media.