It’s the Same But Different

Blogs are the new spoken word!

Huh?

That’s right, no more of this writing nonsense, it’s back to the oral tradition of Socrates and Plato.

Wait, but didn’t Plato publish several important writings, like Gorgias and Phaedrus?

Eh, those don’t count…dialogues are different.

Jill Walker Rettberg chronicles the history of human communication from the end of the oral tradition in Greece to present day. Her point, like Gregory Ulmer’s, was, in part, to point out how each shift from orality, to literacy, and to what Ulmer calls electracy, was met with push-back. The other side of her argument is that the new tradition of blogging and internet literacy is a return to a more oral tradition.

Plato resisted the introduction of writing, despite doing plenty of writing himself, for several reasons:

  • it will destroy memory
  • you can’t ask a text a question
  • words should not be cast out indiscriminately
  • knowledge is constructed through dialogue and interaction

While these criticisms have validity, the advent of the internet writings such as blogging has answered many of these questions.

Rettberg asserts that a blog can be the best of both worlds (and if you click that link expecting to find the Hannah Montana song, I, along with Sammy, Eddie, Alex, and Michael, will die a little on the inside) if they are “tended as a garden”. Blogs have the benefit of being widespread like texts, while having the added dimension of interactivity. Thanks to the comments section of blogs, as well as an increasing transparency of online writers, users can now ask texts questions and have that crucial dialogue and interaction that Plato saw as integral to constructing knowledge.

Another idea that Rettberg introduces is that of the public sphere, which Jürgen Habermas first defined as “an ideal democratic space for rational debate among informed and engaged citizens”. These public spaces, which in antiquity would have been a court or town square, are now online, making them accessible to anyone with internet access.

The most obvious examples of the online public sphere is the social network. Everything from Facebook and Myspace to twitter instagram has elements of blogging and interactivity, which create bonds between all sorts of different people. While most of the people occupying a “friends” list or “followers” list are people that you know, there are always a handful of “friend of a friend” people and even a few “who?”.

Everything that we publish on the internet, whether on this blog, our Facebook, or even a comment on a YouTube video, can be seen by anyone, including our parents, old friends, future employers, and even our professors. Initially, this may sound a little unnerving, but this intense level of, or at least potential for, connectivity is indicative of the established success of online public spheres.

The exchange of ideas and opinions has exploded in the last decade and shows no signs of slowing down. This is a GOOD thing. Maybe having to sift through 1,000 different opinions about whether black tea or green tea has more health benefits is a pain in the ass, but we should be thankful to operate in a public sphere where we are challenged to come to our own conclusions, rather than simply accepting the word of one “expert”. Now everyone is an expert. This is not to say that everyone, or even the majority, know what they are talking about, but being privy to more information and opinions can only be beneficial, assuming we all learn to be savvy consumers of the internet.

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