Arianna and the classical Greeks

Huffington0508In an amusing NY Times piece last week about the Huffington Post, David Carr writes about Arianna and her success in (re)building a brand with a blog. Here is Carr on The Arianna Position toward the Greeks:

"I am an obsessive, and the Internet rewards obsession," she said, adding in passing that there is still no Greek word for blog. "We should come up with a better name for it, but I guess that ship has sailed."

I don't like to disagree with Arianna (to whom I listen religiously on KCRW's excellent "Left, Right and Center" podcast show), but she's wrong here. I'm not sure about the moderns, but the ancient Greeks did indeed have a word for blogs. This word was "doxa" and it translates as "opinion."

200pxplato_1 Plato contrasted the idea of doxa with his theory of knowledge. In his Republic, Plato uses Socrates to articulate a Platonic theory of truth, distinguishing eternal knowledge from mere opinion. This theory is most clearly articulated in the Sixth Book of the Republic with its splendid "Simile of the Cave" metaphorical climax. Plato tells us that, in contrast with the eternal nature of truth, opinion has no lasting significance.

The culture of weblogging could have been invented by Plato to define doxa. Blogs are the essence, the Platonic form of opinion. Blogs, by their nature, embrace the fleeting, the ephemeral, the transitory. The are the styrophone cup of our new informational age.

Arianna might be right is saying that the "internet rewards obsession." More than obsession, however, it rewards the superficiality of the opinionated. Thus Arianna, Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan and, yes, me too. I am striving to be superficial, seeking to dumb-down my message for immediate consumption. I want to be that quick ideological fix, the Mr Doxa of the Internet.

The (not quite Platonic) truth, of course, is that If Plato and Socrates were around today, they too would be bloggers. Arianna would have them working aboard her ship. Both pundits would be peddling their doxa on the Huffington Post.

Child's play Tsujihara style

Pixar_nemo_toystory_incredibles01This week’s Fortune magazine has a special issue on the digital revolution in Hollywood. It includes a feature by Julia Boorstin on Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros' new digital supreme. What caught my eye was the photo of Tsujihara with his two kids playing video games. Boorstin suggests that Tsujihara’s young kids, Morgan (4) and Matthew (6), to “help him focus on the future of entertainment.”

So the top new-media guru at Warner is depending on the wisdom of his four year old and his six year old to learn about the future of entertainment.

One of the most consistent mantras of the digital revolution is that kids know best, play best, web surf best. Grown ups  -- from Tsujihara to Don Tapscott to Rupert Murdoch – claim to derive their wisdom from the kids. Thus New Corps’ radical overvaluation of My Space. Thus utopian books like Tapscott’s Growing up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. Thus Tsujihara’s intellectual reliance on his kids.

The world has been turned upside down. Traditionally, kids learnt from adults. The reverse is now true. Instead of Socrates' wise adult, we have Rousseau's wise child. This is logical conclusion of digital media’s radical democratization of traditional hierarchies. The revolution hasn’t so much been televised as infantilized.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ tells us how tyranny grows out of radical democracy:

“It becomes the thing for father and son to change places, the father standing in awe of his son, and the son neither respecting nor fearing his parents, in order to assert what he calls his independence; and there’s no distinction between citizen and alien and foreigner.”

Socrates explains how this “extreme of popular liberty” results in the breakdown of authority and the rise of the tyrant. What would Socrates think of our contemporary cult of the digital child?  Would he connect this with mob rule and the rise of the tyrant?

DIGITAL ANTIQUITY

Obab097_watnlg_20060427145949Shawn Fanning, the original bad-boy of the Web 1.0 revolution, is now officially history. In an WSJ article today entitled “Where Are They Now”, we learn that Napster founder Fanning, is involved with a legal peer-to-peer start-up called Snocap. Poor old Fanning. He looks a bit of a digital loser these days -- bemused, out-of-sync, like a lottery winner who misplaced his ticket. And well he might. He’s the ultimate footnote note now, a Trivial Pursuit question, the now forgotten chapter before the iPod.

Still, Fanning did briefly change the world, even if that world has now left him behind. Napster once really was radical. It was the bridge between the original digital music plays like Liquid Audio & MP3.com, and today’s thriving online music industry. Napster represents the 1905 of the digital music upheaval. Fanning's start-up had to fail for the revolution to succeed.

So is the future of music now or is it still ahead of us? I am moderating a conversation on this very subject at Berkeley’s Cybersalon on Sunday May 21 (from 5.00-7.00 pm). Mark it in your calendar because it should be a spirited discussion. Panelists include Gerd Leonhard, author of The Future of Music; Tom Conrad, CTO of Pandora; Brian Zisk, founder and board member of the Future of Music Coalition; and Amy Tobin, singer, composer, and multimedia show producer, who will also perform at the event. No Shawn Fanning, though, I am afraid. The Napster founder is the past future of music. He is the first antique of our digital age.