Greetings from the Alta Argument Conference in Snowbird, Utah!
For those of you who have been following my social media, you know I’ve been on a bit of a conference circuit this week. I left Orlando on Tuesday, and spent a couple of days in Vegas at the D2L Fusion conference, where I presented with my Teaching and Learning Innovation colleagues about our learning ecosystem. The conference was brilliant and all about edtech, but I can’t tell you too much yet because that will be another blog. (I’m so behind on my work this week!)
So, fast forward another time change and a flight from Vegas to Salt Lake City this morning, and I’ve shifted gears from ed tech back to my roots of communication and rhetoric. I’m not presenting at this one, but I’m lucky enough to be able to watch my dearest friend rock her panel discussion on identity, political movements, and wait for it, social media. Actually, the entire conference is “Networking Argument.”
My friend introduced me to one of the other presenters, and he gave us a preview of his argument. Again, this conference is all about argument and rhetoric, so he got into a lot of theory, but he was essentially suggesting that because of the pervasive nature social media, we are giving up some of the foundational elements of argument and persuasion. In some ways, I agree. When we look to Aristotelian argument and ethos, logos, and pathos, we have lost something with social media. Credibility, logic, and emotion can sometimes be difficult in 140 characters. I was in agreement with him for most of what he argued, except one point. Sorta...
He suggests that we’ve given up our ability to argue or debate two sides of an issue in a linear progression of back-and-forth points with the hope of finding a solution. The dialectical model no longer holds. My initial reaction was to recommend that he read Networked because, well, I'm biased and can't stop recommending that book. I also wanted to say that with Web 2.0, we’ve expanded debate and feedback models exponentially, to more people than we ever thought possible.
But I hesitated.
It’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in rhetoric and argumentation theory and I needed time to think through this. On one side, Web 2.0 has opened up communication to the masses, a true way to hear the voice of the collective. Yet, on the other side of that argument, I do think that with all its potential, Web 2.0 has failed to foster compromise and solutions. The goal, most often, when we take to social media, is to present our side of whatever the issue is; it’s rarely (if ever) to hear what our opponents have to say in order to find a reasonable middle ground. There is great power in the movements that happen through social media, but perhaps we are losing or giving up our ability to work on finding solutions.
I hope I am missing something, some great compromise that I can’t recall because of my jet-lagged conference brain. Maybe after a good night’s sleep and some fresh mountain air, I’ll be able to think of some.