Socrates, Plato, and “Can you twitter your way to a good life?”

Posted on October 4th, 2010 by

A flurry of recent articles and responses made me think about my Plato class with regard to the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of communication and the relationship of each to civic engagement.

In his New Yorker article “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”, Malcolm Gladwell makes the argument that despite forecasts that Twitter and other social media will be the engine behind large scale social change, social media platforms lack crucial factors that powered the revolutions of the past–namely, strong relational ties and clearly articulated strategies and chains of command.

Jonah Lehrer responded with his article “Weak Ties, Twitter, and Revolution” for Wired, in which he argues that activism actually depends on the kinds of (weak) ties cultivated by social media.

Both writers provide some useful correctives to earlier positions.  They’re participating in a conversation about ideas in published form, in print and online.  The fascinating thing is that they’re also doing so in an age when the internet, in the form of tweets or online comments, makes it possible for written dialogue to occur at almost the same rate as spoken communication, with a smaller and smaller lag time between each utterance.  For example, check out the New York Times discussion board devoted to the topic.

So what does this have to do with the Plato class?  Socrates chose face-to-face conversation to get his points across. Plato expresses heavy skepticism toward writing but does it anyway…but then does it in dialogue form.  What do you think Socrates and Plato would have thought about this question? Which kinds of communication do you think each would advocate as the best means to spur individuals to action?

 

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