Echoing the Cicadas: Neo-Sophism, Gamification of Knowledge & Expertise-Illusion in the Contemporary Infosphere
Sara Elianne Fortin
Supervisor: David Morris
ABSTRACT: For Plato, writing’s power for sophistry and its authority over the reader is founded on writing’s nature as incomplete without the embodied presence of the author, creating an asymmetrical reader-text relationship wherein the reader is active, and the text passive. The modern infosphere presents a new problem but at the same time connects back to this Platonic issue. The relationship between agency and patiency in Plato’s world of textuality is transformed by the mechanisms of the contemporary infosphere. Instead of silence, modern readers are confronted with a bombardment of voices competing for their attention. Conceived as a new tradition, the infosphere presents readers with an unbounded and ever-shifting horizon of texts and references as already interpreted answers. From this unbounded horizon—a product of what I call the collective memory paradox—the expertise-illusion arises within the consciousness of certain types of readers, when the dialectic between question and answer is dissolved through the isolating character of textuality, which is intensified by its form in the internet age. Genuine communication is corrupted when the reader’s agency is unknowingly replaced by the info-sophist’s agency. This is exemplified and amplified through various forms of the ‘gamification’ of knowledge, which encourages readers to seek compulsive accumulation of information, diverting them from thinking their own way to knowledge. This gamification can provide a false sense of agency, making readers think they ‘have’ knowledge, and thereby expertise. However, they have merely won the game of acquiring it within a framework that provisions them to do so.