Has the Internet Killed Ethos?

If only Aristotle was alive today to observe and comment upon everything in our present world that he could have hardly dreamt of. Lately in two of my courses we’ve revisited his study of rhetoric in one form or another. They always say that ethos, or personal reputation, holds the most weight with people and is the most influential towards our decisions. Yet I wonder if this is true in the traditional sense anymore.

With the advent of the internet it has allowed anyone with grammatical skill, ability to research, and to present sound arguments and professional appearing materials and literature. What reputation does anonymous Joe have who creates an alias online under a presumed name and background. Only a perceived reputation and thus perceived ethos, this ‘phantom ethos’ would allow anyone with wit and skills to influence multitudes of people as themselves or as a fictitious character.

The reason this has been on my mind is we have two major dynamics at play in our current western society I believe to be different than ancient Greece during the times of Socrates and Aristotle. A leveling of voices and their messages, when you read something on the web it receives the same general level of prominence as that of anyone else that also publishes on the same medium (a blog, or webpage). This is different than traditional media because you have front cover, and/or names that have massive brand recognition and now companies come from nowhere and in less than six months their name is worth millions if not billions. People are open to new sources of information like never before; both in pace, quantity, and content breadth.

Second reason involves the rise of visual stimulation and the overwhelming emotional (pathos) plea that these images and experiences play on us as people. The sheer popularity of reality TV shows and dramas should suffice to prove that people would rather ‘participate’ in an experience than do something more tradition such as truly experience it or interact with other people. Our test scores as Americans are sloughing off showing a lack of emphasis and desire for logos.

This phantom ethos allows rhetorically savvy people to present information in a way that allows the presentation of ethos without any actually being present. Is this actually ethos though, the presumption its existence, or must there be substance behind it? After all what is a reputation or how do we know someone to be knowledgeable? It is all circular reasoning, but are we now onto a new circle.

With the internet whole communities can spring up in a matter of days interlinking, presenting information backed by one another, and thus create ethos from nothing other than cleaver networking and presentation.

I’m not going to attempt any sort of conclusion here, only pointing out that I see a clear problem on the horizon with the internet. While it is truly allowing an open and free exchange of ideas, it is putting the ideas before those who derive them. When I can publish a book because I know the inner workings of design but have poor ideas and an accredited author needs a publishing firm to be published and delays the presentation of his ideas/thoughts/findings… How will we cope with this? Will we adjust? Or, what I fear, will we give power to those who are cleaver enough to erect monuments to themselves and attain it out of shear will/force/planning?

Where is our ethos now? Have we entered the age of logos? Thoughts?