Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Well, I've been a terrible blogger. As you can see, I haven't posted since about April. I'm a little made at myself that I haven't posted all of my writings for my comprehensive exams on here. But my friend Amy and I are trying to support each other. I thought it might be easier if I posted on my blog. I'll send her my site.

I'm reading Ong today and listening to the Woods Brothers.

I need to summarize Ong's main points, and also discuss strengths and weaknesses. So, here we go:

Ong discusses the transition from an oral tradition, or pre-literate society, to a literate society. From the beginning of the book he got my attention. His refrain is this: just imagine if you had never seen writing before. You would have only been dealing with sounds, and you wouldn't have the visual component of your thinking that writing brings. I consider this book a history of writing, in a sense. I know that Ong has to be related to blogging [part of my dissertation research] because our society's literacy is shifting into what I guess would be called New Literacy. Here's an article from James Gee that may help define New Literacy. Ong says that writing changed thinking, and the same things that we say about computers were said about writing. He also points out that writing is a technology. Our new computer technology is introducing us to "secondary orality" (p. 136).

Like primary orality, secondary orality has generated a strong group sense, for listneing to spoken words forms hearers into a group, a true audience, just as reading written or printed texts turns individuals in on themselves. But secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasaurably larger than those of primary oral culture--McLuhan's global village 9p. 136).

Ong, early in the book, discussed some characteristics of the oral tradition such as repetition and redundancy. He mentioned that pauses are effective in speeches, but it is easy to lose track. It's easier to keep going and just repeat yourself. This repetition reminds me a bit of five-paragraph essays. You repeat yourself twice, and you have three points which are easy to keep track of, and five-paragraph essays do come from speech communications, right?

Ong writes, "a written text is basically unresponsive” (p. 79). Not true with blogs. He says writing and computers are passive. But is that true anymore? On page 97, he brings up time and that time in a more oral culture wasn't fixed. That idea reminded me of the article on Time Speaks.

“Writing is always a kind of imitation talking” (p. 102). He also discusses on this page that in writing the extratextual content is missing, and I wonder if that is true with blogs or instant messaging.

Ong, like Postman, mentions the Lincoln-Douglas debates when audiences sat through hours of speeches, the point being that we no longer have that capacity. Our thinking has changed and our attention span.


Marcia said...

Keri, it's good to see you in this space again! BTW, you might be interested in John's blog. He is finishing his dissertation at St. Louis University and he's an Ong scholar.

John said...

Ong actually used the terms secondary literacy and secondary visualism. I discuss these terms and provide citations in this post. While secondary orality often gets associated with computers, Ong actually associates it with radio and television.

And I would disagree with you about blogs being responsive. Writing in blogs isn't really any more responsive than other kinds of writing. While dialogue can be conducted in writing and has been -- letters, marginalia and glosses in manuscripts, even academic journals and books. However, when Ong states that "a written text is basically unresponsive," he is comparing a written text to the physical face-to-face presence of another living human being.

And, likewise, when he mentions that the written word is missing the extra-textual information we get from face-to-face communication, he's refering to body language, intonation of voice, the look in our eye, the spittle (or lack of it) flying from our lips, etc. Writing can convey some of this whether it's a handwritten letter or an instant message, but physical presence conveys a lot more non-verbal, non-textual information than writing ever can. This doesn't mean that Ong favors the oral over the written, he doesn't. But he does spend more time trying to get us to think about the oral because we tend to unconsciously use literacy as a default, normative, state.

While it may not be of use, I'm wondering if this rant might help you think about blogs in Ongian terms. It and the link I provide above hint at some of the regular problems people (including myself) run into when they first start thinking about written computer-mediated communication after reading Orality and Literacy.

John said...

Oh, I should say that I'm always happy to talk Ong if you would like. Marcia can vouch for me.