miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2010

Plato on the Internet

Two passages from Phaedrus:

“[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have came to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.” (Phaedrus 275a-b)


“You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support.” (Phaedrus 275d-e)

Plato's (or should I say Socrates') complaints about the shortcomings of writing open, or perhaps continue, a long history of complaints against information technologies. We should not forget that Plato is writing at a crucial moment, when literacy is for the first time becoming available as a means of cultural exchange (and philosophical inquiry) to a relatively numerous class of people—an aristocracy, ok, but actually several aristocracies, in the different city-states. It is the age in which the sophists are providing the earliest equivalent of a secular humanistic higher education. Plato's conservative complaints against writing are ambivalent, as Derrida commented, being put in writing themselves. The spread of printed books in the Renaissance provides a similar period of crucial technological transition. And the age of universal linking (eg in blogs or in Google sidewikis) and self-publishing, ushered in by the Internet and especially by the Web 2.0, just like the earlier transitions, leads many people to complain about the decay of the old media. Quite commonly they do so using the new medium, if they want to keep pace with the times and be heard at all. Will the Internet make us dumber? I recommend to pursue the discussion in Kevin Kelly's recent post in The Technium: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2010/01/the_2-billion-e.php

—As to the second passage, blogs and social networks might be just the thing Plato was looking for: a text which can answer back, or a text which has its father/author next to it. Whether that will clarify things or complicate them is of course open to question, because of course the Internet does superpose audiences and contexts—desirable and undesirable ones—in a way Plato finds quite alarming.

con referencia a: Plato on writing – Mumblings of a Platonist (ver en Google Sidewiki)

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