It’s 2018. We’re smack in the middle of the “Information Age.” Access to information is only a click or tap away. I can ask Siri or Alexa, “when was the Parthenon built?” and they will answer within a few seconds. I can go on Google and ask for the recipe for Yemista, and it pops up just as fast. I can even book my tickets for Greece in no time at all. In an article from Trends and Ecology and Evolution Journal, it states that digital technology “has vastly exceeded the cognitive capacity of any single human being and has done so a decade earlier than predicted.” Wow!
Unfortunately, all this access to information really doesn’t make us smarter.
Case in point. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, and a young, intelligent-looking man, between 19 and 22 years old walks in and up to the counter to order one of those coffee abominations. You know, something like a cinnamon-vanilla latte with non-dairy milk, iced, and with a little whipped cream and cinnamon sprinkled on it. What? No cherry on top?
I’m getting away from my point, but those coffee abominations are first, not coffee, and second, just that – an abomination. Back to the story. I’m looking at the young man’s T-shirt and it’s black, with the face of a famous person on it, and there is a red bandana around the head of the famous person, with some saying at the bottom.
I smile and ask the young man, “I like your T-shirt, but do you know who that person is on the front with the red bandana?” He answers no. I must have looked perplexed because he asks who he is. I respond, “It’s Socrates. It’s the marble bust of Socrates and it’s funny that there is a red bandana around his head.” He looks down at his shirt, shakes his head indicating that he has no idea who I am talking about. I add, “You know, the Ancient Greek philosopher?” Again, he shakes his head and says, “Don’t know him.”
I then proceed to tell him that one of Socrates’ most famous quotes is, “I know that I know nothing.”
He walks away. He doesn’t appreciate my sarcastic sense of humor.
The young man could have simply asked Siri who Socrates was and a billion and two articles would have popped up and he probably would have picked one, read about 1 or 2 lines, then moved on. The only thing he would have learned about Socrates was that he was an Ancient Greek philosopher, was the teacher of Plato, and died after drinking hemlock. That’s it. Although there is an infinite amount of information available to the young man about Socrates, he just wouldn’t have time to read “who” Socrates really was, what he gave to the world, and the debt our modern world owes to him. To the young man, Socrates was the head on his T-shirt with the red bandana. What do you expect? He was too busy drinking his coffee abomination.
I’m old school. If I want to learn about something, I’ll read about it, but not just 1 or 2 lines. Today, the average kid has learned to use the “Cliff Notes” of the modern era, which is Siri, Google, Alexa and the other artificial intelligence that is coming out to a store near you. Okay, I shouldn’t lump everyone into one giant dumbing-down pile, but I’m sure that many of you out there have witnessed something similar. Besides, Siri and Alexa do serve some good – I can listen to the Beatles as I’m cooking dinner!
So what makes me so concerned that this young man didn’t know who Socrates was? So what? Who cares? Actually, it’s not the photo of Socrates’ bust on his shirt. Not everyone may recognize the old philosopher’s face. The problem is that he just had no idea who Socrates was and didn’t care.
The history of the Ancient Greeks should and needs to be studied by all. It is the basis of civilization and the modern world. It must be taught to our youngest students and continued to be taught throughout their schooling. You can look anywhere and do anything in this grand old world, and you will see the influence of the Ancient Greeks. If you don’t know the foundation of our civilization, you don’t know jack!
Can you imagine if Socrates had Siri at his beckon call? “Hey Siri,” he would ask, “what is the Socratic method?”
Siri would answer, “Why are you asking me? Ask Socrates.”
“I am Socrates.”
“Then you should know thyself.”
“I think I know, but I don’t know.”
You get it. Bottom line, all roads lead to the Ancient Greeks and if the world veers off that road, we are doomed. Let’s not make Socrates only a face with a red bandana on a T-shirt. Let’s keep Socrates alive and well in the 21st Century. Ask a kid if he knows who Socrates is and see if he knows and if he doesn’t, tell him to go as Siri.
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