What Socrates Taught Me About The Web

Socrates

Thanks to nicmcphee on Flickr

Recently, I flew to San Antonio to meet with a new startup client. While on the flight back, I picked up a book I left on my shelf for a while and never finished called Plato Republic. At least the first parts are Plato’s recordings of Socrates’ conversations.

Cracking open the book I started where I left off, about 20 pages in. Socrates and some guy named Thrasymachus were debating the functions and virtues of justice and injustice. But in the middle of Socrates’ typical Q&A method of working out solutions to these problems, something about their dialogue on functions hit me. Not the programming functions (although it does apply, it’s just not for this article) – what the site does. Rather than explain it myself, I’ll let Socrates explain first and then I’ll explore the conversation a bit more.

It starts with Socrates…

Tell me, do you think there is such a thing as the function of a horse?

I do.

And would you define the function of a horse or of anything else as that which one can do only with it or best with it?

I don’t understand.

Let me put it this way: Is it possible to see with anything other than eyes?

Certainly not.

Or to hear with anything other than ears?

No.

Then, we are right to say that seeing and hearing are the functions of eyes and ears?

Of course.

What about this? Could you use a dagger or a carving knife or lots of other things in pruning a vine?

Of course.

But wouldn’t you do a finer job with a pruning knife designed for the purpose than with anything else?

You would.

Then shall we take pruning to be it’s function?

Yes.

Now, I think you’ll understand what I was asking earlier when I asked whether the function of each thing is what it alone can do or what it does better than anything else.

I understand, and I think that this is the function of each.

So, what’s this have to do with web sites? It’s all about the function. Socrates explains that each object has a special purpose – a function that “it alone can do or what it does better than anything else.” That’s important in two aspects.

First, web sites and web-based media have functions which they do well, or that only they can do. Think about that for a minute.

Second, your specific web site could do (or hopefully does) have one specific function which it does the best or only it can do. Is that the case? If not, perhaps you should rethink what your web site could be doing for you.

It’s been overstated that the internet has changed the game of many industries, of business, of communication, and so much more… but now you understand why. It became the best (or the only) thing to use because of it’s abilities and traits – it’s function. Your job is to leverage it to the best of it’s ability.

Leveraging something you don’t understand is a pretty tall order. I couldn’t train a horse, nor fix every little problem on a car. That’s why there are horse trainers and mechanics though. If I ever needed to do those things, I’d ask them for help. That’s also why we’re here. Our function, our ability, our purpose here at Perfect Space is to assist you in both wrangling the internet to do the thing which it does best for you, and to help you see what can be done in the first place. We like to help you tap the potential of that tool we call the web.

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