In a post a week or so ago, I referenced an article about the move to electracy and the previous shift from orality to literacy. During each shift there is a level of resistance and uncertainty that insists the new method of communication will bring about certain problems. Plato was especially opposed to the new technology of writing during his time. He argued that written text would impede memory skills and lose the interactive dialogue that oral discussions foster. And indeed, the move to literacy did cause many of the unique characteristics of an oral society to disappear with history.
Now, obviously, there are many objections to the current shift in communications. Plato was correct in his fear that interaction would be lost with literacy. A written text cannot answer questions or clarify any issues the reader may have since the writer is removed from his or her work; text is often not interactive. The same principle applied when mass media became prominent. Television broadcasts and radio transmissions reach large audiences, sometimes even millions of people, with a message at one time, but those millions of people cannot respond with their thoughts or reactions. Nor can the group that is broadcasting the message know how it is received on an individual basis. For decades, the main forms of communication were not interactive on a large scale.
Many people view the Internet as a tool to change the one-sidedness of mass media; in fact, it already has in many ways. Newspaper and magazine publications have moved their publications online, where readers can leave comments and post in forums in response to certain issues and articles. Some news sites also offer features that allow a viewer to post a video detailing his or her opinion. Blogs still employ written text, but readers are able to leave comments as well. And often, the writer will respond. This may be the interaction Plato was hesitant to give up. The Internet allows interactive dialogue between individuals that revolve around written text, though the scale of the audience (or participants) is much smaller than that of mass media. The common saying concerning an ordinary person’s “fifteen minutes of fame” has been applied to the everyday Internet publisher: he or she is famous to fifteen people. And those fifteen people are all that is necessary to cultivate discussion and community, which is enough to satisfy even Plato.