Reposting some things I wrote for a History of Media Technology class in 2015 to start thinking about my own constellations as I begin reading for exams – whew!
I sometimes have the experience of reading some piece of analysis that strikes me as incredibly beautiful for its own sake, and I wanted to take this blog post as an opportunity to explore exactly what it was that I found striking about this passage from Ong: “The centering action of sound (the field of sound is not spread out before me but is all around me) affects man’s sense of the cosmos. For oral cultures, the cosmos is an ongoing event with man at its center” (71). Carl Sagan’s “We’re made of star stuff” comes to mind, as does a Cherokee legend in which the Pleiades only come into existence because of the chantings of seven little boys who are angry at their mothers for throwing them out before dinner.
Situationality in an oral culture can stand alongside an analytical view of the universe, and it does in the new technological paradigm we find ourselves in, somewhere between orality and literacy. The very idea of “social media” hinges on both the communal nature of spoken word and the definite and abstract nature of media that stands apart from human consciousness. While our communication looks like the printed word, it appears, disappears, and moves like speech. Perhaps this is why traditionally oral cultures are finding that the Internet is a way back to the situational utterances of their ancestors. In Chapter 4 (which we didn’t have to read, but I think this applies), Ong characterizes oral culture as “the old oral, mobile, warm, personally interactive lifeworld” (79). That, and the “sense of cosmos” that traditionally oral cultures have, sounds eerily similar to the “lifeworld” of online, where human speech is welcomed, interior narrative abounds, and one cannot move through any space without interacting with someone or something else.
In hindsight, this notion of orality/literacy speaks more to the lifeworlds that get built in and through spaces of making than those built through social media. That “old oral, mobile, warm, personally interactive” place has been much of my experience working in the Crafts Center and helping build the Fates of Things with Helen and Stacey. I’m finding it important, though, to resist these comparisons between the analog/oral and the digital/literate. Yes/and! Yes/and! is our chant.