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Edward de Bono VS Social Media

I read this article today where Edward de Bono identifies a danger of social media:

"(Social media causes) laziness – that we just feel we’ll just get more information and we don’t need to have ideas ourselves – we’ll get ideas from someone else, we don’t need to look at the data we’ll just see what someone else has said and so on."

My immediate response was: "hang on a tick, Socrates already said that!" because the same discussion comes up in a book I'm reading (listening to, actually) by James Gleick on the history of information, but Socrates is speaking about writing, not social media.

In The Phaedrus. Socrates quotes the god Thamus speaking to the Egyptian god of writing, Theuth:

"you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality." (read more here)

I must confess to giggling, even LOLing at Socrates. He does appear to be describing Facebook, and if Plato had included a 'Like' button I'd be the first to press it.

"they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."

Heh heh! Fair call, Socrates, fair call.

Now, Socrates' concern about writing seems quite silly 2,381 years later, and is not going to get traction in the media, but de Bono's concern about social media will get plenty of attention.

Why? Because, because, because, us human beings are beset by perils, everywhere we look, but we're most conscious of new ones. De Bono's observation is of a new peril. Socrates' concern is no less valid, but it's an old observation about a well-known technology. 

Of course social media can drown us in information but strip us of wisdom and deep understanding. Well done de Bono. Writing can too - props to you, Socrates. 

When was the last time someone at a party said "You know, I hear a lot about writing, and I've been thinking of taking it up myself, but don't you feel that writing can make us lazy, because, you know, no one has to remember anything anymore, or internalise, you know? The information is just there on the page, ready for any half wit to consume and chalk up to understanding... <sigh> I don't know..."

Or for that matter, any technology, "I'm just not convinced about automobiles. Have you stopped to think how dangerous they are? Also, by travelling further to our work places, I really wonder whether it might dislocate us from our sense of local, village-like community..." Which again is of course quite a valid point.

I get that all the time about social media: It shortens our attention spans, it floods us with noise, it promotes mindless trivia, it distorts our identity with a constant quest for shallow online kudos, it makes us lazy. 

I take such comments as a sign that someone has not sat down and done a full analysis of the technology to point of being comfortable with it. They are clearly still coming at it as an outsider, as a rookie. They're still awkwardly getting a shape for the new thing. I mean if Socrates had joined up for a writing.com account and not left it for Plato I doubt he would have been so touchy about it. Imagine the irony Plato himself felt as he wrote down Socrates' words? De Bono has been plenty a tweeted, too. 

People who criticise Twitter are invariably not on Twitter, or they 'tried it once but got sick of hearing about people enjoying a coffee or buying some new shoes'. That can't possibly be a full analysis of Twitter. If it were, why would anyone be on it?

It's like they stopped half way through a thought and couldn't get any further.

To Socrates, de Bono, and social media worriers, I can only respond: you're better off to dive into the new technology and find wisdom and balance within it, and then share that wisdom with others once you've reached a mature, stable and sophisticated understanding of it.

Otherwise if you have a dig at it as an outsider you just end up sounding like an old codger. Verrrry old.