Thursday, December 03, 2009

Re-creating a lost art on Facebook

A long time ago, not quite so far back as Plato's time, but before Google, there was a particular kind of conversation that intelligent people would enter into. They would be sitting around drinking coffee or beer, at a party or at work, and stumble onto some interesting subject. Someone would ask a question and no one would know the answer. Since the people involved were intelligent and well-informed, they would attempt usually in a good-natured way, to figure it out.

I have been half jokingly saying for months now that this kind of conversation is obsolete. The answer to all of these interesting and obscure questions seems to be "look it up!" ( Meaning on the Internet, probably using Google.) At least for people temporarily isolated from the net, an art was dead or maybe just dying.

I discovered over the last week that I was too pessimistic. Subject of some significance came up in a post to Facebook: have the Afghans beaten every army of invasion which ever tried to take the country? Including Alexander the Great?

This precis of Afghan history has become a great cliché for obvious reasons, and I am not sure I believe it. I drew the line at Alexander. The person who raised the issue this time is an intelligent military historian so I engaged in the conversation. And so did several other people. It was really neat. And the issue remains unresolved. As so often in the old days.

What this proves to me is that there is always room for intelligent conversation that goes beyond the mechanics of "looking it up." I you really want to discuss the fortunes of empires in what is now Afghanistan, you are going to need a good library and a convincing argument. Wikipedia is not good enough.

an ancient Greek symposium.

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