Rettberg Chapters 2 and 3 – Plato Today

Throughout the development of communication, new technologies have continually been received both with great enthusiasm and skepticism. One of the earliest of these technologies was writing itself, and it was with the growing utilization of this technology that we made the great transition from a culture which communicated purely by means of orality to one in which literacy was of huge importance.

In Jill Walker Rettberg’s Blogging, she discusses one of Plato’s objections to writing, expressed in one of his many written dialogues representing verbal discussions between Socrates and certain students. The objection (that writing will “destroy memory”) is, funnily enough, almost identical to Nicholas Carr’s objection to the Internet in his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” again demonstrating the ever-present skepticism with which new technologies are met (33).

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Another of Plato’s objections to the written word which Rettberg references is that it is “unresponsive:” it cannot defend itself, interact with its readers, or be altered (33). However, with the existence of the Internet, this is no longer a valid criticism. Blogs (along with other forms of digital media) are capable of alteration (in that they may be edited after publication) and have become increasingly receptive (in that readers may comment or ask questions and expect responses from the blogger or at least from other readers). As Rettberg states, this makes blogging more akin to oral discourse as it moves away from mere dissemination to encourage a Socratic approach to learning with which I believe Plato, who argues knowledge is best composed through discussion and collaboration, would be very impressed.

It is natural that new technologies, such as writing in Plato’s day or networking in ours, be received with some wariness; most change is. However, it is also natural (not to mention crucial) that there be a progression in technology to accompany the progression of time. Facebook and other social media sites, as Rettberg notes, act as grounds for interaction that would most likely not occur otherwise. Blogging and other forms of interactive digital media permit us to share and discuss ideas with an efficiency that simply would not exist without the Internet, and it is this efficiency that enables us to learn more than ever before.

Discussion Questions:

What objections would Plato have to blogging?

In what ways does the Internet detract from human interaction?

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