The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Posts from — September 2009

Some Psychodynamics of Orality

In Chapter 3: Some Psychodynamics of Orality in the book Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong examines primary oral cultures: People who have no system of writing. For oral cultures, words are only represented as sounds. Ong says that the problem with sound is that it is evanescent: It can’t be stopped and preserved. When it is stopped, there is nothing only silence. (Ong, p.32) He explores how oral cultures can recall words if they are unable to record them through writing considering the fact that literate cultures procure their information from written information: “The organized knowledge that literates today study so that they know it, that is, can recall it, has, with very few if any exceptions, been assembled and made available to them in writing.” (Ong, p.33) He suggests that it is through the use of mnemonics and formulas that oral cultures can recall information. Mnemonics and formulas provide a basis for thinking for oral cultures due to their rhythmic sounds that are easy to retain and recall. (Ong, p.34-35) Ong also credits additional characteristics with helping oral cultures think, express themselves, and memorize information. These characteristic of thought and expression are as follows:

· Additive rather than subordinative: Oral cultures use less structure than written cultures and are not as concerned with the rules of grammar as much as literate cultures. They express themselves by appending their thoughts together in a pragmatic manner. (Ong, p.37)

· Aggregative rather than analytic: Oral cultures use formulaic oral expressions to make expressions more meaningful and memorable. (Ong, p.38)

· Redundant or copious: Oral cultures repeat information so that it becomes ingrained in memory. (Ong, p.39)

· Conservative or traditionalist: Oral cultures repeat information over and over again to ingrain the information and avoid adding any extra information as it would be too much of a burden to remember. (Ong, p.41)

· Close to the human lifeworld: Oral cultures remember information that is familiar to their surroundings and their own life experiences. (Ong, p.42)

· Agonistically toned: Oral cultures remember dramatic events that have a tone that expresses drama and agony. (Ong, p.43)

· Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced: Oral cultures prefer being close to their audience where the audience and the speaker each have influence over each other. (Ong, p.45)

· Homeostatic: Oral cultures retain information that pertains to their current situation, not dwelling on the past. (Ong, p.46)

· Situational rather than abstract: Oral cultures learn about ideas and concepts that actually exist. (Ong, p.49)

Ong believes that oral cultures are not able to process complex topics such as geometry, categorization, logical reasoning and definitions for example because he believes that cultures need to be literate in order to engage in these types of thought processes that are generated through reading and writing text. (Ong, p.55) In addition, Ong suggests that oral and literate cultures process information differently which is referred to as the Great Divide Theory. However, Chandler (1994) states that “those in non-literate societies do not necessarily think in fundamentally different ways from those in literate societies, as is commonly assumed. Differences of behaviour and modes of expression clearly exist, but psychological differences are often exaggerated.” (Chandler, 1994)

Regardless of whether a culture is oral or literate, both cultures are able to learn and the ways in which they learn are similar based on identical learning theories. Ong’s characteristics of thought and expression pertain to the cognitivism and constructivism learning theories. 

Mnemonics, which Ong described as helping oral cultures recall information have also been described by Driscoll (2002) as helping the encoding of information by making new material more memorable to learn. (Driscoll, p. 92) When oral cultures repeat information in order to learn it, this is referred to as rehearsal which is an effective means for learning information that is non-complex in nature. (Driscoll, p.91) Both mnemonics and rehearsal are categorised as being part of the cognitivism learning theory. (Driscoll, 2000)

Ong describes thought and expression as additive for oral cultures whereby thoughts are informally appended together as opposed to subordinative whereby phrases are more formally joined together for literate cultures. Clark and Mayer (2008) state that a less formal conversational style from either spoken or written text is an effective way to engage people in deeper cognitive processing because people will try harder to understand what the person is saying.  (Clark & Mayer p.163)

When oral cultures remember thoughts and expression that are close to the human lifeworld, homeostatic, and situational, these all touch on the constructivism learning theory whereby people learn by constructing new knowledge based on the knowledge that they have already acquired. (Driscoll, p. 375)

When Ong states that thoughts and expression are empathetic and participatory for oral cultures, research has proven that people learn more from a collaborative learning environment than from learning alone. (Clark & Mayer p.278) In addition, Postman (2002) states that orality places emphasis on collaborative learning. (Postman, p.17)

Although people have depended more on print for their learning during the past four centuries, people can still learn by using the means that oral cultures did in the past. Ong’s characteristics of thought and expression conform to the cognitivism and constructivism learning theories that describe some of the ways that both oral and literate cultures learn.


Chandler, D. (1994). Biases of the ear and eye: “Great Divide” Theories, Phonocentrism, Graphocentrism & Logocentrism [Online]. Retrieved 28 September, 2009 from:

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Pfeiffer San Francisco.

Driscoll, M.P. (2000). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ong, Walter (1982). Orality and literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books.

September 30, 2009   1 Comment

Burden or Blessing?

As a typographic culture (and becoming more so a Web 2.0 culture), we take for granted the power that writing has on our everyday existence.  Neil Postman (1992) in his book, “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” asks us to consider both the “burden and blessing” that technology holds within our lives.  To examine writing as a technology, Postman refers to Plato’s Phaedrus whereby King Thamas is opposed to sharing the new technology of writing as he fears that it will be detrimental to his people.  Although Postman argues that we should not be as one sided as King Thamas, I find that his position is sceptical and often Luddite in nature.  That being said, I feel that Postman’s “Technopoly” offers numerous points for further reflection.

“The words technical change have come to symbolize for people all over the world a hope that is new to mankind” (Mead, 1955, p.1).  Postman shares that Plato’s Theuth shared a similar interest to Mead of spreading the new technology of writing to the masses.  Many see technical change as a means to add to a cultures knowledge base and should be widely distributed.  I also think that we should take what we know and better ourselves with new techniques and technologies.  Postman on the other hand cautions that a “new technology does not add or subtract something.  It changes everything” (p. 18).  I don’t agree with Postman that new technology can change everything as I feel it needs to be proven valuable and useful first.  An example of this is the perseverance of Sidney Pressey to revolutionize teaching with his “Automatic Teacher” machine (Petrina, 2004).  Pressey’s goal was to create a new technology that would free teachers from mechanical tasks so they could spend more time with individual students (Petrina).  While the intentions were admirable, both the technology did not live up to its standards and the culture of teaching was not agreeable to machines as teaching aids.  The teachers in Pressey’s time did not believe that this technical change was a blessing to them as thus Pressey’s “Automatic Teacher” was never widely adopted.  Similar sentiments were felt when writing was the new technology and people opposed its adoption.

Ong (1982) shares the story of A.L. Luria who did fieldwork with literate and illiterate people in rural Uzbekistan in 1931.  Luria found that “it takes only a moderate degree of literacy to make a tremendous difference in thought processes” (p. 50).   Both Ong and Postman agree that those that are in control of knowledge have power.  Postman cautions that this elite group have been “granted undeserved authority and prestige by those who have no such competence” (p. 9).   Postman makes an excellent point of “underserved wisdom” and I would argue that this is reflected with what is taking place in today’s classroom.  There are teachers, administrators and parents that believe that using new technology in the classroom is of paramount importance and thus, those who use it are applauded and those who refrain from adoption are seen as obsolete.  I would agree with Postman that there are “winners and losers” in the knowledge monopoly.  The technological knowledge gap that exists within a school creates a burden on teachers.  As someone from a literate cultural circle it is hard to understand the struggle that occurred as writing was the new technology and was gaining popularity.

Postman urges us to examine the introduction of computers into the classroom as he feels they will alter they way in which we teach and learn.  Postman describes how King Thamus believed that communication and instruction were tied to orality.  He argues that orality stresses group learning and cooperation whereby print learning focuses on individualization and competition.  Ong would agree with Postman in that he feels that orality creates unity and “writing and print isolate” (p. 73).  Both Postman and Ong wrote in a time that differs from now: widespread adoption of computers in classrooms is inevitable.  I consider the points that both make and I would agree to some, but I would argue that an evolution has taken place and that computers are being used to increase collaboration and improve overall learning among students.  Web 2.0 has taken hold and wiki’s and community weblogs are being implemented into classrooms and are facilitating cooperation and collaboration among students.  The successes of Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle, are built on the premise of social constructionist beliefs whereby knowledge is created by the expertise of the group (Moodle).

Technology is ever changing.  Technological change has occurred from oral cultures to chirographic cultures, to now a Web 2.0 culture.  If Postman was writing in 2009 he would have to include discussions of digital footprints and such into his discourse.  I believe that we have to take lessons from the past to decide if the latest and greatest technology is a burden or a blessing and if we as individuals chose to adopt it.  It is hard to understand that once writing was the new technology and it had opponents.  I think Heidegger (1953) said it best, “but we are delivered over [technology] in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral.”



Heidegger, M. (1953/1977). The question concerning technology. In M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology and other essays (trans. W. Lovitt) (pp. 3-35). New York: Harper & Row.

Mead, Margaret. (1955). Cultural Patters and Technical Change. New York: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Moodle. (2009) Retrieved September 27, 2009 from

Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.

Petrina, S. (2004). Sidney Pressey and the automation of education, 1924-1934. Technology and Culture, 45(2), 305-330.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.

September 30, 2009   2 Comments

First Commentary: ‘Writing’ Defined

 ‘Writing’ Defined

Ashley S. Jones

ETEC 540



Searching the term writing in the Oxford English Dictionary Online (1989), came up with numerous definitions, of which I have chosen three:

  1. The action of one who writes, in various senses; the penning or forming of letters or words; the using of written characters for purposes of record, transmission of ideas, etc.
  2. Style, form, or method of fashioning letters or other conventional signs (esp. in handwriting or penmanship); the ‘hand’ of a particular person.
  3. Wording or lettering scored, engraved, or impressed on a surface; an inscription.

When first reading these definitions, they seem to convey what is typically thought of when defining the term writing.  However, with more reflection, it becomes clear that each is in some way limited, either in its description of what writing may have been for a society thousands of years ago, how writing is currently being done, or how we may write in the future.

Thousands of years ago, humans were using various methods to satisfy their “fundamental need to store information in order to communicate, whether to themselves or to others, at a distance in time or space”(Ong, 1982, p.11). To achieve this storage of information, some of the oldest and most common methods used were knot records, notches and tallies. Knot records, in particular those used by the Inca of Peru, were complex and elaborate methods of recording transactions and payments. These systems of adding and removing strings, allowed for categorical variety and a high level of complexity while recording numbers and prompting memory. Pictography was also widely used many thousands of years ago as a way of conveying even larger varieties of information and more complicated messages. All of these methods were used to transmit and communicate ideas and information to others beyond the immediate present.

These, and many others, have been used for years to aid memory, store information and convey human thought and/or speech over distances, thus contributing towards the “repertoire of resources that would eventually yield complete writing.” (Fischer, 2001). The three definitions of writing previously mentioned do not encompass these methods, however, I believe that we must not view these developments as ‘limited’ writing, but as a usable form of writing and communication for the society in which they were developed.

Gaur eloquently puts it as this:

If all writing is information storage, then all writing is of equal value. Each society stores the information essential to its survival, the information which enables it to function effectively. There is in fact no essential difference between prehistoric rock paintings, memory aids (mnemonic devices),winter counts, tallies, knotted cords, pictographic, syllabic and consonantal scripts, or the alphabet. There are no primitive scripts, no forerunners of writing, no transitional scripts as such (terms frequently used in books dealing with the history of writing), but only societies at a particular level of economic and social development using certain forms of information storage. If a form of information storage fulfills its purpose as far as a particular society is concerned, then it is (for this particular society) ‘proper’ writing. (Gaur, 1992, p. 14)

Fischer’s (2001) criteria of “complete writing” is that its purpose is communication, it consists of artificial graphic marks on a durable surface, and it uses marks that relate to articulate speech in order to achieve communication. His definition does not include those so-called ‘primitive’ methods, although he does state that, “writing is and will always be so many different things to so many different peoples in so many different ages.” (Fischer, 2001, p.12)

The way we store and communicate information has developed, progressed and drastically changed over the years. For hundreds of years writing was as typically defined: the forming of written characters on a durable surface. However, we are now living in a digital and technological age, where more and more writing is done on the computer, and in many cases stored on the Internet. It is evident that we must rethink our traditional definitions of writing, in particular that it must produce marks on a durable surface. Wiki pages are now a main means of retrieving and storing information. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can contribute, edit and access the information stored on these Internet pages. Since this community page allows such open access, we are effectively choosing as a society what we feel is the important knowledge to store and share.

The way a society currently communicates and stores information, be it on rock, on paper or in a computer, is a reflection of what has been created and what is available at that present time. As technology, and the availability of technology, changes, so will the method of writing. Chandler (1994) lists various characteristics and features of the written word, including (but not limited to) the following: visual, external, fixed, ordered, objective, quantifying, abstract, detached, individual. These terms help to describe a more flexible definition of writing.

In conclusion, a more encompassing definition of writing could be: “The communication and storage of information for the purpose of access, by oneself or others, immediately or at a later time, in a form that is useful and purposeful for the current society”.


Chandler, D. (1994). Biases of the ear and eye: “Great Divide” Theories,   Phonocentrism, Graphocentrism & Logocentrism [Online]. Retrieved 25 September, 2009 from:

Fischer, Steven Roger. (2001). A history of writing. London: Reaktion Books.

Gaur, Albertine. (1992). A history of writing (revised edition). London: Cross River Press.

Ong, Walter (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.

Writing. (1989). Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved on September 25, 2009 from:

* Image by Sidhartha retrieved from


September 30, 2009   1 Comment

First Commentary: Orality and Literacy in Teaching

            Ong provides us with some very convincing arguments that there is a marked difference between the thought processes of a purely oral society compared to a literate society. One cannot deny that his examples of the work A. R. Luria appear to show very conclusively that the oral speaker thinks in more lifeworld terms, meanwhile the literate or even semi-literate man is capable of more abstract thinking processes. Ong clearly states that “Literate users of a grapholect such as standard English have access to vocabularies hundreds of times larger than any oral language can manage” (p. 14).On the whole I find myself in agreement with him. However, I have several in laws who are illiterate and when we have problems it is often due to misunderstandings because I have used language in a different way than they do.

            Therefore, I find myself left with doubts about the validity of some of his arguments. I wonder if it is really possible for a literate person to know what questions to ask an illiterate person in order to determine their thought processes. I can empathize if I have this skill, but I have been literate all my life. I have had access as Ong quotes Finnegan as saying to “The new way to store knowledge … in the written text. This freed the mind for more original, more abstract thought” (Ong, p. 24).Is it possible to be objective if I have so much more language to command? I believe that as teachers we need to look at orality and literacy at all levels of education. I train teachers from kinder to high school. It is important for kinder teachers to realise how important their use of language is. Children entering kinder garden are being exposed, often for the first time, to new language and new voices. Ong (p.71) explains how one can become immersed in sound. Children love repeated sounds and the use of onomatopoeia and alliteration is crucial for keeping their attention. Small children develop language skills when language is introduced in an additive and aggregative way.

            I think almost all teachers would agree that storytelling and giving new information using story telling techniques is a standard practice. However, when we come to older children the reverse is true. Mexico, in particular, is a very sociable and oral culture. However, in the secondary and high school, children until recently, were expected to increase their knowledge by almost exclusively literate means. Whereas, in primary school they were encouraged to vocalise their thoughts, now they are expected to listen to the teacher, read their textbook or investigate on their computers and finally to produce a written document or answer a written exam. Oral skills are not encouraged and children are told to not waste their time talking. It would appear that these teachers believe that “Writing heightens consciousness. Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life” (Ong, p. 81).  Some teachers have tried to change the heavily weighted literary elements of their teaching method by getting their students to present their investigation to the group. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this has not been very successful; as most students read their presentation and some adolescents find it a traumatising experience to be singled out to speak in front of the group.

            I became aware of these drawbacks about a few years ago and I have tried to adapt my curriculum accordingly. I see no reason why students have to read alone or in silence. I encourage my students to read aloud in groups and to each other. I find this allows them to stop and discuss relevant points, take notes (written or pictorial) or ask for help if a concept is not clear. I give them options on how to present their knowledge, either, mental or conceptual maps, written summaries, pictorial representations or in oral form. Most of my students come from families were reading is not a common pastime and very few of them read for pleasure. Ong states that “High literacy fosters truly written composition” (p. 94) and I find myself in agreement to some extent. Nevertheless, if a culture does not have very developed literary skills, I believe that it is necessary to find some intermediate path between orality and literacy and from the results I have encountered in my classroom I think that combining orality and literacy is one method that is effective.   

 Ong, W. (2002). Orality and Literacy.  New York: Routledge.

September 29, 2009   2 Comments

Twilight of the Books…is the end near?

I read an interesting article in the New Yorker concerning the history and future of reading for pleasure. Ong and his theory of secondary orality are discussed in the article, but the work of Maryanne Wolf caught my eye (or my mind?). Here is an excerpt of  a section which made me think of this week’s readings and Ong’s theory that literate minds would not think as they do were it not for the technology of writing:

 “The act of reading is not natural,” Maryanne Wolf writes in “Proust and the Squid” (Harper; $25.95), an account of the history and biology of reading. Humans started reading far too recently for any of our genes to code for it specifically. We can do it only because the brain’s plasticity enables the repurposing of circuitry that originally evolved for other tasks—distinguishing at a glance a garter snake from a haricot vert, say.” (Crain, 2007,¶8)

If this is true, what are the long-term effects of such repurposing? Will we lose the ability to recognize garter snakes?  😉

I am of the opinion that the brain did not “rewire” to adapt to reading, but instead grew (created new connections, new synapses) from literacy. I suppose this could be what Wolf considers “repurposing”, and I admit I have not read her book. However, I don’t think our brain is rerouted resources from one area to another. I think our brains slowly formed new and effective pathways of thought.  What do you think?

(There is a nice discussion citing Ong and secondary orality in the article too!) Erin

Crain, C. (2007). Twilight of the books. The New Yorker. Available online 29, September, 2009, from

September 29, 2009   1 Comment

Module 1 Reflection

To be honest, my initial reaction to the community web log was “ oh, another forum”. There are too many similar forums out there that the experience of sharing ideas and thoughts within a virtual community has become repetitive and predictable. However, after exploring the Etec540 weblog and reading my classmates’ submissions, I have discovered that this weblog is not just another forum. Posting responses, comments and opinions on the weblog encouraged me to think about reading and writing and how they change as the environment and technologies used alter. The same message written on the word processor and on a piece of paper communicates different information. For example, the penmenship and spelling errors associated with writing on paper can suggest author’s character. This compels me to define text and technologies carefully and consider the power and influence technologies have on text and vice versa.

The technologies used for the postings on this web log allow students to attach relevant and unique images and video clips to the posts therefore making exploration through the blog more fun at the same time indicating the extra time and effort people have invested into the blog. The blog is a collage of our thoughts. As we continue to make meaningful posts we continue to inspire one another thus further nurturing a purposeful virtual community.

September 26, 2009   No Comments

Upon reflection…

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak no Evil

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak no Evil

Why this picture you ask? I guess it’s because I feel this proverb epitomizes the changing nature of text and technology and the fact that it’s not something we can or should ignore.

I want to begin by saying that it’s taking a while for me to get use to using this type of forum. As day passes, I believe I’m getting a little better at navigating and contributing to our weblog. I must say I was a little skeptical at first, perhaps because I’m more ‘old school’ and more comfortable using older technologies. That being said, I’m always up for a challenge and this certainly seems to be pushing me to the max. It helps knowing that I’m not the only one that’s struggling on the technology side of things. The bottom line is that I’m learning plenty of new and interesting things.

I was surprised to learn in Module 1 that there were so many different definitions for text and technology and that these terms are used in so many different contexts. I’m used to be surrounded by books but in more recent years, I find myself spending more time working from a computer. I’m not a gamer but I can see the attraction. I think the internet is a wonderful thing and I use it for many reasons, everything from communicating to family and friends, to finding out information on just about anything. I believe that, as a technology, the internet is responsible for transforming the way we see and use text. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

After I listened to O’Donnell’s From Papyrus to Cyberspace and reviewed the discussion postings on the text and technology, I couldn’t help but wonder what lies ahead. I think it might be interesting to listen to what people are prophesying about today, particularly with respect to where they believe the technology is expected to go but also about how they think it will alter the way we view text. Based on the Papyrus to Cyberspace experience, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of what is said will come to pass. We should also expect the unexpected as it is almost impossible to predict with certainly, just how things will unfold. As with most things in life, what we think will happen and what actually happened are usually two different things.

If I could rewrite my first impressions on text and technology I suspect the entries would quite different than what they are now. I can’t say I would have changed what I wrote previously. Instead, I would probably have expanded it to include all the other things I hadn’t thought of previously or hadn’t known until now. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to reflect on these two terms again, towards the end of the course.


September 25, 2009   No Comments

Technology as a way of revealing

I noticed that Rich had already posted a passage from Heidegger and “The Question Concerning Technology”, but I would like to discuss another part of it. Early in this essay Heidegger states that “Technology is a way of revealing”. I think that this is important and that the “revealing” Heidegger mentions is closely connected with what he elsewhere calls “regioning”, which he says opens “the clearing of Being”. By this he does not mean a type of conscious thought or unconscious thought but rather something that makes both of these possible to begin with. It is tied up with speaking a language and with dwelling among other people in the world. (He gets rather mystical when he tries to describe it in his later writings.) The view of technology as a way of revealing would suggest that technology is inextricably bound up with the way in which we live, our practices, and our institutions. It would support Neil Postman’s claim that a technology’s function follows from its form and that new technologies threaten institutions. It may be a bit disturbing, though, as we usually like to think of ourselves as rational beings who can represent technology objectively and freely decide how we will use it. As Heidegger himself explains at the end of the essay, though, it is not necessarily a fatalistic picture.

September 24, 2009   No Comments

A Thought from the Reading

As I was reading chapter four of Ong’s book I had a thought (which I promptly wrote down so I would not forget). Could it be possible that our brains are prewired or preconditioned for oral forms of communitcation only. Perhaps that is why it is difficult for some to express their thoughts clearly in written form? Oral communication is an innate human product whereas writing is a learned process. In short, I wonder if there is a correlation.

September 24, 2009   6 Comments

Poem on Technology

  As I continued to navigate through the blog and reflect on the idea of text and technology, representing our need to expand our horizons and create more outlets for our creativity, I discovered this poem. I would like to know how you  feel about it. I learnt more about meerkats. They can dig as much dirt as their own body weight in a couple of seconds! I suppose we can only equal that when we truly master the technology. I suppose viruses are like jackals which are the only creatures that can conquer us. My computer was attacked but I am Back!

Community Creatures

A colony of bloggers secure in their topic

ranging in size from massive to microscopic.

The lesser ones surround and support the great

who set the direction for the others to debate.


A flock of forums grazing on knowledge

their shepherds guiding them to fresh foliage.

Free to chew the cud and relax within their walls

trusting the guardians to banish the jackals.


A hydra, a multi-headed oracle, it must be a wiki

tackling all problems from the simple to the tricky.

The multiple heads give it so much knowledge you see.

The only problem is… they do not always agree.


A mob of social bookmarkers, much like meerkats

take turns looking out and deciding what’s good to peer at.

Hoping none of the sentinels is actually a pretender

directing them all according to their own agenda.


In the distance, a herd of social networkers

dashing all over the place. There’s no room for shirkers.

Without any shepherds they all, every day,

have a role to play in keeping predators at bay.

©Adam Rulli-Gibbs 2007

September 23, 2009   2 Comments


To elucidate the concept of “text” I decided to upload this clip from the documentary series Testament, presented by historian John Romer. The series, which was originally aired in 1988, is about the history of the Bible—how it was created and how it has featured in people’s lives throughout history. In this clip, which actually consists of a small clip from the beginning of episode 3 with a clip from the end of the same episode, a narrator reads from the rules of how a Jewish temple scroll is to be written. (Notice that it says no part of the scroll is to be written from memory.) John Romer also tells an interesting story that illustrates the idea that a text is authoritative. In an oral tradition there is no authoritative version of a story. A person tells the story from memory and can change it to suit his or her purposes, usually in response to the reactions of the audience. I was reminded of this clip when listening to James O’Donnell’s discussion of early Christianity and its dependence on writing.

YouTube Preview Image

September 23, 2009   No Comments

Oral Culture – Has something been lost?

I thought I would post my disscussion response from Ong’s chapter three. So far, I have enjoyed the course and am including lots of our ideas in my class. Even though I have a huge learning curve, ( this is my first course in the program) I am finding it easier due to the openness of the class community. So a huge thank you to all of you!


Writing has had much effect on human thought process. Human thought changes with the minor introduction of literacy. The mind shifts from existential or situational intelligence and moves towards more abstract thinking. However, there is something to be said about the oral cultural thinking. It seems very straight-forward and logical. The example of the study with the bears in the North comes to mind. Luria’s questioning involving simple deductive reasoning revealed a different type of answer than I was prepared for. The Illiterate simply stated they had never been there and each region has its own type of animal. I quite liked that answer. It seems more honest or truthful. It is important to think in terms of comprehensive descriptions and more analytic thought but I still find the merits in a oral cultures outlook. Ong suggests that writing provides us with the ability to free the mind of arduous tasks of creating “memorable thoughts” and allows us to turn to more “outside the box thinking”.

Other changes in human processes that occur due to writing include our ability to self analyze and use abstract categorization. The studies identified in Ong’s work suggest that non-literate cultures do not fully possess the ability to look inside them and reflect. In other words they do not have the ability self analyze. Therefore, being able to write (which in itself is an individualistic task) provides us with the ability to look inwards at ourselves whereas oral cultures still think of themselves in external circumstances. The other major change with the introduction of writing is our ability to classify abstractly. Oral cultures will give the names for objects “plate” vs. the abstract “circle”.

These changes to some extent weaken memory. Ong suggests that oral cultures remember by using formulas (repetition, mnemonic patters, alliteration, epithets etc) to help remember what has been said. Orality and Literacy also demonstrates that oral cultures do not memorize verbatim, but make changes due to their own interpretation and the climate of their audience. However, because we have the ability to “write things down” instead of remembering without the use of paper and pen I believe we have lost some of our ability to remember. From my own personal experience, if I do not “write it down” I may forget to do it. Our loss of formulas in speech may contribute to our loss of memory. Ong indicates that with the introduction of writing, came the loss of formulas due to sounding clichéd or redundant. The loss of this may contribute to our inability to remember as well as those in an oral culture.

Does it matter? To some extent it matters. We will become increasingly reliant on “looking stuff up” and the loss itself is regrettable. I somewhat romanticize the oral cultures because of their ability to recite beautiful poems and how they are able to think in such a straightforward (honest) manor. In regards to memory, I find that sometimes I have brilliant insights, subsequently I don’t write it down, and forget. I wonder if someone in a primarily oral culture would have the same problem. Still, my bias leans towards literate cultures and the ability to use deductive reasoning and abstract thinking, which truly opens so many more doors in intellectual exploration. I would not be able to talk to all the authors I have read and never would have known their opinions or thoughts on a subject. For that I am fortunate. In that regard, if we have the ability to write something down to remember it are we really loosing anything tangible?

September 23, 2009   No Comments


Egypt: Abydos, originally uploaded by Brooklyn Museum.

I’ve chosen this picture because it contains an image of the Egyptian god Thoth, mentioned in Plato’s Phaedrus (although there his name is given as “Theuth”). The ancient Greeks identified this Egyptian god with their own god Hermes. They were both associated with writing and with guiding the dead to the underworld. In the case of Hermes I think this connection between writing and death had to do with Hermes being a god of travelers, little shrines to Hermes serving as markers that were placed along a path to guide travelers. So, Hermes was a guide for those traveling to the underworld and also a god of writing, the written words being regarded as like signs and markers along the road. (Just a speculation, though.)

My name is Stuart Edgar and I have just started the MET TBDL program. In addition to taking this course I am also currently taking ETEC 512. I’ve started this course late, just joining this week. For the past eight years I have been teaching philosophy at a university level, at first with the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota, and more recently with Athabasca University. I completed my PhD in philosophy from the University of Calgary last year. I’m particularly interested in ETEC 540 as I have always been fascinated by the relation between languages and worldviews.

September 23, 2009   No Comments

Quote of the Day:

“How can I know what I think till I see what I say”

– Graham Weillas The Art of Thought

Writing solidifies our thoughts? Or perhaps an indication of the importance of oral discussion. Thoughts?

September 23, 2009   1 Comment


Here is a link to a really interesting site where they use words to create some very powerful pictures. Text can literally  be used to create pictures, which is what text does in a more abstract sense.  It is through text whether it is a poem, instructions, a narrative, or just a name- the reader creates a picture from interacting with the text.

September 22, 2009   1 Comment


Hi:  My name is Bev.  I am currently on leave from my job teaching math in a jr/sr high in a small rural school in southern Alberta.  This is one of my 5th , 6th and 7th courses.  I am fascinated by the topic- so expect this will be a rewarding course.  I have been travelling in Peru for the last month as so am a bit behind!! I look forward to working with you all.

September 22, 2009   No Comments

New Look

Hi everyone,

I’ve activated a different theme/skin for the weblog as there were a couple of limitations on how the previous theme was presenting content, both in the tag-cloud (a long list) and on category pages (without the images).  I hope that this is not to unsettling for anyone!

Does anyone have any suggestions for the top-banner image that we should use for the weblog?  Perhaps there is something in the Creative Commons archive that will work.  The columns in this theme are narrower than was the case with the last one.  This can be annoying with larger images, but you can also resize them using the editing window that comes up when you are making your post.



September 22, 2009   No Comments

Reflections on Process -Choose Your Avatar

Reflections on Process – Choose your Avatar:
In reflecting on the past module, along with the terms and content, I am also reflecting on the process of participating in the course itself, and the various challenges we encounter in successfully navigating the technological requirements of the module….. things like learning how to create a blog entry and in particular the process involved in choosing an Avatar. The notion of the avatar has been part of the virtual landscape for a long time, however the process of choosing one for these entries here [which I will no doubt change at some point] was for me, not as simple as it might sound. I found that I got lost a little bit in searching for something which could in some way represent me…. in some visual way …even just to find a picture that could be considered neutral….so I referred to the definition again…to refresh my understanding of the term
An avatar from the Sanskrit word for “a form of self”, commonly used in many Indian languages) is a computer user’s representation of himself/herself or alter ego, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early computer systems It is an “object” representing the embodiment of the user. The term “avatar” can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name or handle, of an Internet user
Okay, that didn’t really help so I thought then….lets revisit what the term Alter Ego means….An alter ego (Latin “the other I”) is a second self a second personality or persona within a person. It was coined in the early nineteenth century when early psychologists first described schizophrenia. A person with an alter ego is said to lead a double life. The term alter ego is commonly used in literature analysis and comparison to describe characters who are psychologically identical, or sometimes to describe a character as an alter ego of the author, a fictional character whose behavior, speech or thoughts intentionally represent those of the author.[Wikipedia: retrieved September 2009].
In the end, I choose an old crest from one aspect of my identity [my surname] and one side of family to represent me here…like them its rather odd, but at the same time, it is also very familiar to me, I am not sure it represents my alter ego or even my Identity in any way, but it works for me now, because it is really is a kind of fusion of text, of symbol [icon] of identity and of technology….

September 21, 2009   No Comments

Thought this was interesting!

From Ohio State University – Research News

I thought this article was related, especially regarding the discussion we were having about the need to print out the readings from online sources. Enjoy!


WASHINGTON – Students who read essays on a computer screen found the text harder to understand, less interesting and less persuasive than students who read the same essay on paper, a new study has found.

Researchers had 131 undergraduate students read two articles that had appeared in Time magazine – some read from the magazine, some read the exact same text after it had been scanned into a computer.

“We were surprised that students found paper texts easier to understand and somewhat more convincing,” said P. Karen Murphy, co-author of the study and assistant professor of educational psychology at Ohio State University. “It may be that students need to learn different processing abilities when they are attempting to read computerized text.”

Murphy said the results of this preliminary study cast doubt on the assumption that computerized texts are essentially more interesting and, thus, more likely to enhance learning.

“Given that there is such an emphasis on using computers in
the classroom, this study gives educators reason to pause and examine the supposed benefits associated with computer use in classrooms,” she said. “This study provides a first step toward understanding how computers might influence the learning process.”

Murphy conducted the study with Ohio State graduate students Joyce Long, Theresa Holleran and Elizabeth Esterly. They presented their results Aug. 5 in Washington at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The study involved 64 men and 67 women, all undergraduates at Ohio State. The students read two essays that had appeared in Time, one involving doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and the other about school integration.

Before they read the essays, the students completed questionnaires analyzing their knowledge and beliefs about the subjects in the texts.

After the readings, the students completed questionnaires that probed their understanding of the essays and also asked them about how persuasive and interesting they thought the essays were.

One-third of the students read the print essays and responded to the questionnaires on paper. One-third read the essays on a computer and then responded to the questionnaire on paper. The final third of participants read the essays on the computer screens and responded to the questionnaire online.

The results showed that students in all three groups increased their knowledge after reading the texts, and the beliefs of students in each group became more closely aligned with the authors.

However, there were important differences, such as the fact that students who read the essays on the computer screen found the texts more difficult to understand. This was true regardless of how much computer experience the students reported.

“In some ways, this is surprising because the computerized essays were the exact same text, presenting the exact same information,” Murphy said. The computerized texts even included the small picture that appeared in the print edition.

“There is no reason they should be harder to understand. But we think readers develop strategies about how to remember and comprehend printed texts, but these students were unable to transfer those strategies to computerized texts.”

The students found the computerized texts less interesting than printed text, which should be expected if they didn’t understand the computerized versions as well, she said.

Students who read the essays online also rated the authors as less credible and the arguments as less persuasive. “Again, it may be that if these students did not understand the message, they would not judge the author to be as credible and might not find the arguments as persuasive.”

There were no significant differences between the students who read the texts online and responded to the questionnaires on paper, and those who read the online texts and also responded to the questions online.

Murphy said that if the college students in this study had difficulty understanding computerized text, such text may present additional hurdles for less competent readers.

“We shouldn’t make it more difficult for children to learn, which is why we need to be careful about how we use computers in the classroom,” she said.

“A lot of questions have to be answered before we continue further into making computers part of the curriculum.”

September 21, 2009   No Comments

Mixing molten lead and Blackberries

Goss press

When I think of the technology of text, something like the image above (a small Goss newspaper press) usually comes to mind.  The first time I saw one, I was impressed by the size and mechanical complexity of it.  Later, when I met some of the older pressmen, they told me stories of the hot lead days–a few even had scars on their forearms from when the slugs (letter forms) would jam as they were sliding into place and, if the pressmen weren’t quick enough, hot lead would spray on to their arms.

Last week, I walked behind a student in the hall madly jabbing her thumbs at a tiny cell phone.  The presses always made me think of the New York Times, democracy, mass distribution, and public debate.  The cell phone makes me think: “c u l8tr” and a rendezvous at the mall. How does the medium shape the message?

September 20, 2009   No Comments