I love reading the different opinions from all sides on social media. I don't like when people insult an opposing side however. I was curious on how people debated anciently and found this interesting article about the kinds of public forums in ancient Greece. I know, what a bore, right? Actually, there's some interesting parallels to today's social media as well as some much needed perspective to be had as we witness the, often times, aggressive debates among readers' comments.
Are you still with me?
First, I love this take on Aristotle's philosophy on planning a city's common areas back then: "Aristotle’s hope was that when a person becomes accustomed to a diverse, complex [environment] he or she will cease reacting violently when challenged by something strange or contrary."
The article goes on to break down two of the ancient public forums where politics and opinions were debated:
1) Pnyx (pronounced niks) - "Athenians put this ordinary theatre to a different use, in seeking for order in their politics. Speakers stood in the open, round space on a stone platform called a bema, so that they could be seen by everyone in the theatre"
"through concentration of attention on a speaker and identification of others in the audience who might call out challenges or comments, the ancient political theatre sought to hold citizens responsible for their words."
2) Agora - "The town square consisted of a large open space crossed diagonally by the main street of Athens;"
"A number of activities occurred simultaneously in the agora – commerce, religious rituals, casual hanging out. In the open space lay also a rectangular law court..."
"...in coming to the town square to deal with a banker, you might be suddenly caught up in a trial occurring in the law court, shouting out your own opinion or simply taking in an unexpected problem."
"The [Pnyx] organises the sustained attention required for decision-making; the square is a school for the often fragmentary, confusing experience of diversity. The [agora] prepares people for debate; the theatre visually disciplines their debating."
After reading these descriptions, can you see the parallels of ancient Greece with our modern Facebook or Twitter?
Instead of a physical theater we have a digital space where a single person speaks to their subscribed audience. And where that audience may challenge the speakers ideas.
Instead of a town square, we have mixed digital space of various backgrounds and people, doing many different things at once. While we jump on our phone to buy shampoo on Amazon we are interrupted with an update about a political leader's trial. And at any time we can offer up our own opinion among the pandemonium.
But one big difference is that back then everyone talking could be seen by everyone else in person. Social media, on the other hand, is often criticized for its anonymity. It's that anonymity that makes us think we can speak down to others without any remorse.
So maybe we are not all that different than the Greeks. Now, the town square debate is mostly done remotely. Understanding the history, we can begin to reevaluate how we are using social media and if the comments we are making are building a healthy community or a toxic one.
Read the whole article by Professor of Sociology, Richard Sennett: https://www.democraticaudit.com/2016/11/01/concentrating-minds-how-the-greeks-designed-spaces-for-public-debate/