The 21st century agora

When one thinks of the digital city it is not likely that they will stop to reflect upon comparisons with ancient Greece. Much academic ink has been spilt on the role the internet plays in modern life and it is fair to say that, notwithstanding the comparably short life of the world wide web, the subject is catching up upon its ancient rivals.

Many of the great Greek philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle, presented their ideas to those assembled in the agora. It is a common misconception that the lexicon ‘agora’ referred to a market place in the modern sense of the term. The agora, as it was know to both Plato and Aristotle, was so much more: it was the primary meeting place for free-born male citizens to discuss matters associated with their city. It was from these locations that much of the thinking we take for granted originated. When Odysseus sailed home from Troy he did so using the stars and planets as a means of navigating yet it was at the agora that their importance was first discussed by the Greeks. Much of what was discussed is still used today with the word ‘planet’ come from the Greek planētēs meaning ‘wanderer’ and ‘agoraphobia’ deriving directly from agora itself.

What, you may still be thinking, does this have to do with the internet? The internet is rapidly become one of the most important means of exchanging and debating ideas. A clarification should be made at this point at to what is meant by the exchange of ideas: it is not the visceral hatred that comes from so many sources and is colloquially called ‘trolling’. There has always been those seeking to impress their hate on others and the internet has allowed this on a truly global scale. Ideas here is, suffice it to say, what normal right minded individuals would take it to be. It is through these exchanges of ideas that the modern digital city has been born and that city better reflects the agora rather than the vast metropolises (derived from the Greek mētrópolis meaning mother state or city, equivalent to mētro-, combining form of mḗtēr mother + pólis -polis) which came into being in Western Europe with the advent of indusrialisation.

The bar has always gathered to exchange ideas and debate legal issues. Professor Sir John Baker has done extraordinary work is highlighting the progression of legal education from the time of the Conquest up until the 1700s. The principal method has by en large been through discussion and mock trials at the Serjeants’ Inns, followed by the Inns of Court. Although debates still take place at the Inns universities have largely taken over the education of lawyers including those practising. Even in the modern age the primary basis of education has not changed but the means of facilitating these have. The increasing provision of online legal education has facilitated the start of the online city. This city is focused on training and education; people are meeting to exchange ideas but now on a global scale. This transformation has resulted in the move back to the agora but now the agora extents beyond physical constraints.

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