Context : TextPeople, MediaAndMaterials, MarshallMcLuhan

(ReadWith) AudioSocialNetwork

In an interview about ClubHouse MarcAndreessen says (CategoryCopyrightRisk)

Q : Even though I have appeared on several podcasts, I am a Text Supremacist in that I feel that serious thought is best transmitted through the written word as it is shorn of distractions such as physical setting, the look of one's face, or the sound of one's voice along with their verbal tics. Clubhouse is based on audio (I am Samsung Galaxy Master Race so I have yet to partake in the app, and to be honest I have never been invited) and is gaining widespread appeal. Is this due to the intimacy that the app provides? Or are there other reasons?

This is a very old and very important debate that traces back to classical Greece. Socrates himself was famously on the other side of your position, an Oral Supremacist versus your Text Supremacist. Socrates argued that text is markedly inferior to oral information conveyance, precisely because text can't interact, it can't talk back. He predicted that a future of text would stultify cultural development and the transmission of virtue, to which [waves hands and points in all directions].

Later, media theorist Walter Ong articulated the profound differences between Textual (Literate) and Oral cultures. Textual cultures are abstract, analytical, mathematical, clinical, universalist. Oral cultures are grounded, intuitive, emotional, interpersonal, group oriented. I think this maps to what Vilfredo Pareto and James Burnham described as "combinations" and "group-persistences", which also maps to what we know today as libs and cons. Yes, I just called you a lib. Sorry. And then anthropolgist Joseph Henrich in his ultra-important new book "The WEIRDest People In The World" shows how growing up in a Textual culture literally changes your brain's physical structure; your brain reallocates processing power normally devoted to analyzing faces to processing text. Which explains a LOT.

Today we live in a hybrid world, part Textual, part Oral. As Ong and Henrich describes, this certainly applies between different cultures – some much more Textual, some much more Oral. But I think this also applies within each culture, including our own. The Internet extensively enables both Textuality and Orality – a fountain of writing alongside a fountain of audio and video. But also, you have a medium like Twitter, which Antonio Garcia-Martinez argues is actually Oral masquerading as Textual – on Twitter, you think you're reading and writing text, but you're actually absorbing and spitting Oral fire. (TheProblemWithFacebook)

So what role does Clubhouse play? I think Clubhouse is quite literally Socrates' Athenian Agora; it's Oral Culture implemented online in its full glory, for the first time. We should expect it to exhibit all of the virtues and pathologies of Oral Culture for sure – but since we have lived mainly in a Textual culture for the last 300 years, Clubhouse is a timely and important nudge back to the middle.

But interestingly, Clubhouse, at least so far, is nicer than Twitter – conversations on politically loaded topics that would instantly collapse into all out warfare on Twitter can sustain for many hours on Clubhouse, tense but not explosive. Why is that? Draw a two by two grid, with "Active and Passive" on one axis and "Approve and Disapprove" on the other. Twitter has three of the four boxes filled: Retweets are Active Approval, Likes are Passive Approval, Quote-Retweets are Active Disapproval (dunking). But Twitter is missing Passive Disapproval – in person you can Passively Disapprove with a glance, a sound, a motion, but there's no equivalent mechanism on Twitter. But on Clubhouse you have several ways to Passively Disapprove – you can vocalize a sound or go silent, you can leave the stage, and you can leave the room. The reputationally-homicidal battle arena of Twitter has its place, but there should also be a setting to talk about important topics without getting an RPG up your virtual tailpipe, and hopefully Clubhouse is it.