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Why read? In an age of Facebook, viral videos and top 10 lists, are books still necessary? by sam mcloughlin | illustration by michael lee

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here they are. All lined up on my shelf, huddled like a clique in the cafeteria. The rest lay in a pile on the floor, like someone yelled “dog-pile!” and then unloaded on them with an Uzi. They’re my books. At least a hundred and fifty, scavenged from Powell’s in Portland, student bookstores, and Amazon. Books of all kinds: philosophy, memoir, biography, self-help. Some of them get read occasionally, but very few are ever finished. Why? Some would blame YouTube or cell phones, busyness or Facebook.

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I blame the Greeks. I blame them because they remind me of a time when our civilization got along perfectly well without books. If you were to trace the roots of Western civilization down to a single book, it wouldn’t be the Bible (although that would come a close second). It would be a book called The Republic, featuring a Greek named Socrates. The strange thing is that Socrates didn’t write it. Plato did. Socrates was the greatest mind of his time, and he didn’t write anything. Neither, for that matter, did Jesus. Yet these two men shaped our

civilization more than any others. How did they do it? In this day and age, the best way to change the world is, apparently, through viral videos (see Kony 2012). Back in Socrates' day, the best way was through viral ideas. You’re probably educated on the ideas of Jesus that went “viral,” so to speak. But what about Socrates? His "viral" idea was that truth was more important than anything else, and that the best way to find truth was through conversation. Instead of giving long-winded speeches like other Greeks, Socrates became very good at asking

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Converge magazine // 11  

This 11th issue we explore the ethics of hockey culture, and whether loyal hockey fans are mad at the NHL for the right reasons. We talk vir...

Converge magazine // 11  

This 11th issue we explore the ethics of hockey culture, and whether loyal hockey fans are mad at the NHL for the right reasons. We talk vir...

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