The Agora of Ideas
The social heartbeat of the ancient world continues to pump dialogue.
There was a slight smile on Devon Bryson’s lips as the room burst into protest. He had dropped a philosophical bombshell and turned a discussion on aesthetics into a scene straight out of 12 Monkeys. (He’d find the comparison absurd and roll his eyes into the back of his head until they popped.)
Words were impossible to discern. There was a lot of neighing and braying, and I’m pretty sure somebody was curled into the fetal position in the corner as the skies contracted and knowledge crowned. Gross.
Okay, I admit that was me in the corner.
“Ah yes,” Devon spoke quietly, “the birthing pains.”
No, Devon Bryson is not Socrates, but he might as well be. That night in Missouri, Devon Bryson brought us all into the agora of Ancient Greece. The Ancient Agora of Athens was a crucial place for the exchange of ideas. It was the social heartbeat of the ancient world. There the politicians battled in debate; there the merchants marketed their goods; there the masses exchanged gossip and kept the ancient world going around. For Athenians, the agora was Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, all squished into one. It was TV, arena, and shopping mall. Sometimes it was awful and there was nothing except Aristotle on, and God knows that man was a brilliant bore!
Today, it lies in ruins, a mere reminder of the platform it once held, the feet it supported, the arguments it heard. But the agora still lives.
As the agora was the Ancient Greek’s social media, social media is our agora.
There is power in social media that can change the world. Politicians and advertisers have discovered a phenomenon that philosophers have yet to: social media shapes the global subconscious. We are exposed to a barrage of ideas, and ideas shape the world. Currently, the majority of those ideas barely qualify as entertainment, but what if our brightest minds were to shape them into dialogue? A Ph.D. student of history at the University of Florida, Brian Hamm says, “It will be education in the fullest sense of the word that will provide the leaven to enrich the discourse shared by the global community across the various social media sites.”
The ability to connect with friends and family across the globe is an incredible boon social media boasts. However, its ability to become an ‘ideagora’ and the potential we have to engage with the world is just too great to ignore.
Devon Bryson, that sly dog, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Tennessee, sees the challenge. “Social media seems to have a tendency to quickly devolve in complexity and clarity, not to grow in it as conversations progress … If social media were to become a successful philosophical forum, it seems to me that one would need to figure out how to combat (and indeed reverse) this phenomenon.”
I am not naive enough to ignore that social media is a black hole of self-absorption, that it wastes far too much of our time, and that it imbues us with self-importance. But social media is only a tool. In itself, it is neither good, nor bad. However, it can be used well or poorly and it is here to stay. So let’s roll up our sleeves because we have work to do.
The time is now. The channel is open. The agora is there. Bring on the birthing pains.
-Tom Gage @thgage