A Downside to Reading?

Incredible irony attends the fact that in his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato portrays his teacher Socrates opining that writing enfeebles the mind and memory and produces ideas that cannot speak, answer questions, or come to their own defense. Of course, were it not for the writings of Plato and the so-called Minor Socratics, these very ideas of the cantankerous old teacher would never have made it to modernity. Reading and writing are clearly useful technologies that enable humans to share information across great distances in time and space, but there is also a sense in which Socrates may have been right. He favored learning face-to-face through dialogue, relying principally on the memory and mind to store and sift information. A vital human touch can be lost in the drive to make ideas and information legible. This post takes a look at some of the downsides of the concept of legibility, as discussed in the work of political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott, and what those downsides mean for human interaction. To continue the irony of reading about this critique of legibility, click here.

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