The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Posts from — October 2009

Commentary 1: Walter Ong and Sociodynamic Implications of Literacy

In the third and fourth chapters of Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong compares characteristics of orality and literacy, showing how consciousness is dramatically changed – “restructured” – by literacy.  In exploring this transformation, though, he appears to miss the full significance of the confluence of several of the changes he describes.

Ong examines orality and literacy in relation to a variety of psychodynamics of orality, characteristics of thought and expression.  He shows how oral story forms differ from literate in style and structure; the types of knowledge, and conceptualization that each favours.  He further explores differences in use of memory between orality and literacy; in what is remembered, and how.

Against this extensive background he looks at research on early textual works based on oral creations (Milman Parry on the Iliad and the Odyssey; qtd. in Ong: 58), and more recent work with living narrative poets in Yugoslavia (Albert Lord; qtd. in Ong: 59), and concludes that oral memory works quite differently than literate memory: the “fixed materials in the bard’s memory are a float of themes and formulas out of which all stories are variously built” (60).  He contrasts use of such formulaic elements with the methods and expectations of literate people memorizing from text, and writes at length about differences between orality and literacy with respect to the possibility of “stable” repetition or reproduction, and makes the point that even the idea of faithful reproduction differs between the two.

Ong relates that Lord, in his work with the Yugoslavian bards, found that “[l]earning to read and write disables the oral poet . . . it introduces into his mind the concept of a text as controlling the narrative…” (59)  This was in reference to the process of oral composing, but it reflects the fact that oral narrative is by nature fluid, that variations in the story between tellers are part of the evolution of the culture and the form.

Such variations reflect the unique storyteller, the audience and the circumstances of the telling; the unvarying essentials reflect the needs and beliefs of the group or culture.  “Originality”, Ong writes, “consists not in the introduction of new materials but in fitting the traditional materials effectively into each individual, unique situation and/or audience” (60).  Ownership of the essential story in oral culture is communal; restrictions on how a story is told or used, by and to whom, in what season or context, arise from  – and belong to – the story, the community and the culture.

This creates a world in which neither the storyteller nor the listener exists in isolation; they are dependent each on the other, partners in shaping and perpetuating narrative.  The Okanagan author Jeanette Armstrong writes that “I am a listener to the language’s stories, and when my words form I am merely retelling the same stories in different patterns” (qtd. in King: 2).

All this serves as the groundwork for a detailed examination of how consciousness itself is restructured in a literate world.  The effects are profound.  Language, through text, becomes external – “detached from its author” (78); as such it is “context-free” or “autonomous” (Ong references the work of E.D Hirsch and David R. Olson respectively; 79) and becomes irrefutable, unresponsive, and altogether unaccountable – as Ong delightfully says “inherently contumacious” (79).  It is now mediated, requiring tools (and propagating technologies)… it precipitates a fundamental shift in the human awareness of self in place, and in time; and it greatly increases the potential for restriction of access to knowledge and dissemination of ideas.

Tucked among this survey of shifts in human consciousness and culture Ong mentions the potential for private ownership of words,  noting that “typography had made the word into a commodity” (131), and acknowledges that it was a boon to the increasingly individualistic nature of human consciousness, and the growing tendency to perceive “interior . . .resources as thing-like, impersonal” (132).

Unfortunately, he pursues this idea no further, and so overlooks one of its most significant implications.  It seems that he knows it well subconsciously, yet while it informs his entire work he doesn’t actually address its implications explicitly.  The process of transferring “memory” outside the mind paradoxically makes story both external to the thinker and external to the community.  Ong has already observed that “[p]rimary orality fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those common among literates” (69).  But he stops short of recognizing the full consequences of this particular psychodynamic – and sociodynamic – shift: that literacy makes possible both the private ownership of knowledge and the knowledge of private ownership in a way never before imaginable.

In an oral culture, knowledge, once shared, was ‘common’; if ‘protected’, was secret.  While knowledge had currency, and rules or custom or interests might determine what was told to whom, by whom, and when, its commodification in the modern sense was impossible.  Like the Kiowa grandmother in N. Scott Momaday’s novel House Made of Dawn, oral peoples knew that words “were beyond price; they could neither be bought nor sold” (85).  Knowledge could not be packaged for sale, nor last year’s knowledge devalued and replaced – at a price – with this year’s.

Private ownership of land and resources is likewise enabled by literacy; being dependent on the ability to demonstrate and enforce possession.  The ability to create, delineate, and enforce ownership through what are essentially ‘text acts’ allows relations of ownership to take place at a distance; removes the need for physical demarcation and presence.  Physical possession is no longer nine-tenths of the law.  And in a literate world, the two can be combined: knowledge can be owned, controlled, traded, suppressed, or disseminated even by those who can not create it themselves.

Ong apparently does not appreciate the broader sociodynamic implications of literacy in relation to the existence of textual knowledge as a commodity.  Ironically, the money he earns for his publisher is a manifestation of what Ong overlooked.

Works Cited

King, Thomas.  The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.  Toronto: House of Anansi, 2003.

Momaday, N. Scott.  House Made of Dawn.  New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

Ong, Walter.  Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.  London: Methuen, 1983.

October 23, 2009   1 Comment

Technological Tattooing

I stumbled across the proceeding new technologies as I was researching my final project.  While both the implanted touch-screen and electronic ink may bring up images of shocking encounters, I believe the possible applications of these two technologies outweigh their initial reactions.

Could implanted touch-screens be used to help the disabled interact with their environment?  Will body art of the future not only be a symbolic representation of one’s cultural values but literally link them to like-minded individuals on a global scale?  Will both these technologies become a remediation of the physical computer itself i.e., one that is outside of and/or detached from the human body?

Electronic tattoo display runs on blood

February 21st, 2008 by Lisa Zyga

The tattoo display: “Waterproof and powered by pizza.”

Jim Mielke’s wireless blood-fueled display is a true merging of technology and body art. At the recent Greener Gadgets Design Competition, the engineer demonstrated a subcutaneously implanted touch-screen that operates as a cell phone display, with the potential for 3G video calls that are visible just underneath the skin…

Electronic, interactive tattoos

Thu, Jul 2, 2009

Been thinking about tattoos lately. And although this image is not a tattoo I find it really lovely. Especially the lace one….

Here’s the you tube video!

YouTube Preview Image

It’s Bare — a conductive ink for skin. A collaboration between Bibi Nelson, Isabel Lizardi, Matt Johnson, and Becky Pilditch.

October 22, 2009   No Comments

Bada-Bing! The Oxford English Dictionary Taps into Internet Culture

When I think about standardization of language, my first thought is to refer to the dictionary. Sam Winston, a UK artist, has done some neat pieces that use dictionaries as a springboard for playing with language and text. What I like about this project is that the artist’s intent is to make art accessible – which in the context of this course relates back to the press as means to make literature accessible to the masses. Here is short video clip of the project Dictionary Story.

In the video clip, Winston mentions James Gleick’s article for the New York Times, Cyber-Neologoliferation as a source of inspiration. As this course has fueled my interest in language and technology, I decided to search this article out.

Before reading the article I did not have a clue what ‘neologoliferation’ meant. What I learned is that neologism refers to “a newly coined word that may be in the process of entering common use, but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language (Wikipedia, Neologism, para. 1). This word seems completely appropriate to use in the context of the Oxford English Dictionary and their pursuit to capture “a perfect record, perfect repository, perfect[ly] mirror of the entire [English] language (Gleick, 2006, para. 5).

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has a long history, dating back about a century and half, and has played an essential role in standardizing the English language. In his article, Gleick explores the workings of the dictionary today and how the online environment is changing the evolution of language. The OED has evolved its immense printed resource of 20 volumes in its second edition to a 3rd edition that now resides completely online. The Internet has not only been a vehicle that houses the dictionary but a tool that allows lexicographers to eavesdrop on the “expanding cloud of messaging in speech” that occurs in resources such as newspapers, online news groups and chat rooms (para. 2).

With these tactics for tapping into culture, the dictionary has moved from being a ‘dictionary of written of language’, where lexicographers comb through works of Shakespeare to find words, to one where ‘spoken language’ is the resource (para.12). Surprisingly, text messaging also serves as a source for new vocabulary. Beyond OED’s hunting and gathering processes, the general public can also connect with them to have a new word assessed for inclusion into the dictionary. The ‘living document’ of the dictionary now seems to require of the participation of the masses. With this, more and more colloquial language is being added to the dictionary (e.g. bada-bing).

The printing press worked to standardized spelling but according to Gleick (2006) with mass communication spelling variation is on the rise. With the Internet, OED is coming to terms with the boundlessness of language. In the past variations of the English language were spoken in many different pockets around the world. These variations still exist but now are more accessible through the Internet (Gleick, 2006). Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer at OED believes that the Internet transmits information differently than past vehicles for communication. He suggests that the ability to broadcast to the masses or communicate one-to-one is impacting the change in language. For OED, the ability to tap into a wide variety of online conversations affords a more accurate representation of word usage all over the world.

Standards in language help us to clearly communicate in a way that is commonly understood. This article makes me wonder, with all the slang being added to the dictionary, what will language look like in 50 years? 100 years? Will a new English language evolve? How will this affect spoken and written language? Will standards become more lax? With all these questions, OED becomes an important historical documentation of the evolution of the English language.


Gleick, J. (2006, November 5). Cyber-neologoliferation. New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2009, from

Neologism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

October 21, 2009   No Comments

The Rise of Penny Newspapers and their influence on Mass Media

Throughout the history of writing there have been significant advancements that have led to major shifts in communication technology. From the scroll to the codex to the manuscript to the printing press, technological changes have influenced how information is passed on to readers (Ong, 1984). These technological shifts are referred to as remediation by Bolter (2001). The incredible success of the penny press in the 1830’s in the United States was one of these significant remediations in communication. This radical change influenced not only the masses and mass communication but politics and educational policy in fundamentally significant ways (Saxton, 1984). Technological determinists such as McLuhan (1964) and Ong (1984) would have one believe that it was technological advancements that led to the success of the penny papers of the mid 19th century in America. However the incredible success and growth of these dailies was a result of more complex societal and cultural factors than technological advancements. Remediation, that is the shift in communication technology, continues to play a significant role in the written word.

Prior to the 1830’s in America, daily newspapers served a select group of people. Dailies were owned and produced for the upper class, urban, professional male (Saxton, 1984). However this class and racial disparity changed dramatically with the popularity of the penny press. In 1830 there were sixty five dailies in the United States with an average circulation of 1200 (Saxton, 1984). According to Saxton (1984) by 1850 there were 254 dailies with an average circulation of 3000. These dailies represented a significant change in not only readership numbers but also in content and class of people that read them. Dailies, such as the Sun in New York, were written to appeal to the working class. The content of these papers shifted from political polemics, public statement, commercial and foreign news to humour, sex, sports and crime and content that was of more interest to women and children (Saxton, 1984). There is some dispute whether penny papers were the first to make use of sensationalist content to sell papers (Nordin, 1979) however the cultural influence of these first dailies is undeniable. This change in readership not only led to the dramatic popularity of the penny papers but also led to a change in political and educational agendas.

The incredible popularity of the penny presses of the mid 19th century precipitated a change in politics in America and were the beginnings of mass media. The shift from dailies that served the rich elite to the penny papers that appealed to the masses mirrored the rise of working man’s parties in the United States (Saxton, 1984) specifically the Democratic Party as well as the abolitionist movement (Rhodes, 1993). Benjamin Day, the owner of the New York Sun, wrote (Saxton, 1984):

“there has been a great and decided change in the condition of the labouring classes and the mechanics. Now every individual, from the rich aristocrat who lolls in his carriage to the humble labourer who wields a broom in the streets, read (sic) the Sun;…Already can we perceive a change in the mass of the people. They think, talk and act in concert. They understand their own interest, and feel they have numbers and strength to pursue it with success…. (p.224)”

The papers were as described by Saxton (1984) initiated by artisan printers that promoted an urban ideology that was rationalist, secular, democratic, expansionist and fiercely egalitarian. Many of the owners of these dailies were proud of their common school education and had an egalitarian contempt for the higher learning of colleges and universities (Saxton, 1984). What is often not referred to in the literature is the tendency for penny newspapers to assert the racial superiority of Anglo-Saxon (Rhodes, 1993) and often portrayed Native Americans as savage and barbaric in order to justify westward expansionism and afro americans as “supplicant, kneeling and pleading for freedom” (Rhodes, 1993). However the ability to reach a mass readership may have facilitated the movement to a more democratic and egalitarian ethos in the United States as well as the beginnings of a popular voice for afro americans. This rise in the literacy of the working class man led to, as mentioned earlier, the development of the Democratic party. This shift in power from the rich elite to the masses certainly had an impact on politics in general not only in the United States but wherever mass media in the form of inexpensive dailies were produced. With the rise in readership came a rise in literacy. This rise in literacy coupled with the rise in power of the working class brought public education into the consciousness of the American people.

The incredible success of penny newspapers led to significant changes in technology. The popularity of these papers applied existing technologies and promoted new innovations (Saxton, 1984). Technologies imported from Europe were adapted and modified to meet the burgeoning needs of the American penny newspapers. Paper making moved from hand cranked presses to factory production becoming increasingly mechanized and steam powered. The search for cheaper methods and materials drove much of the technological innovation that occurred (Saxton, 1984). The result of this search lead to print and paper innovations that dramatically cut the cost of production. One of the most significant developments was the application of paper to the type by means of rotating cylinders made possible an output of two thousand copies an hour. When Benjamin Day started the very first penny newspaper, the New York Sun, he was producing 200 copies an hour using hand cranking technology. This rapid expansion of readership had direct influence in advancing literacy. The relatively inexpensive cost of the dailies coupled with the content that was more accessible to the masses invariably lead to greater and greater numbers reading. This in turn would have raised the general literacy levels of the population.

At times in human history certain technological and cultural advancements join in a confluence to enable phenomenal change. The rise in the popularity of the penny presses of the early to mid 19th century affected not only mass media but printing technology, politics and education (Saxton, 1984). No longer did the bourgeoisie hold the power and control of mass media. Rudimentary hand cranked presses that melded sensationalist content with a call to arms of the working class forever changed the political and educational landscape of the United States. The meteoric rise of the penny presses and their significant influence on thinking have only been eclipsed by the Internet and hypertext. If the penny presses are any indication the Internet and hypertext will forever change global culture.


Bolter, Jay, David (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, London.

McLuhan, Marshall, (1964). Understanding Media: The extensions of Man. Signet Books. New York

Nordin, Kenneth, D. (1979). The Entertaining Press: Sensationalism in Eighteenth-Century Boston Newspapers. Communication Research, Vol. 6, No. 3, July 1979. pp. 295-320.

Ong, Walter (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the word. Routledge, London and New York.

Rhodes, Jane (1993. The Visibility of Race and Media History. Review and Criticism. Vol. 20. pp.181-189

Saxton, Alexander (1984). Problems of class and race in the origins of mass circulation press. American Quarterly, Vol. 36. No.2 (Summer, 1984), pp.211-234.

October 19, 2009   No Comments


I started my wiki for my research project on photography and I thought it might be interesting if fellow classmates added images that they have found memorable. I started the list with widely recognized images, but please feel free to add anything that has inspired or interested you!

Thanks, Sarah

October 18, 2009   1 Comment

On to the web… and then back off?

I was reading this New York Times article about Pixable and it made me wonder if a similar trend will emerge in writing. Just as Pixable envisions getting images back off the web and into traditional photo albums, will technology provide the means by which we will get text back into tangible forms?

October 17, 2009   No Comments

Does the Brain Like E-Books?

Does the Brain Like E-Books?

This group of articles was brought to my attention.  Five authors discuss their research on ebooks and the future of literacy.  I am hoping to find some answers to many questions raised in our current reading.

I hope you find it thought provoking and look forward to continuing the discussion on this topic.

October 17, 2009   No Comments

Archimedes palimpsest

Archimedes palimpsest was thought to be lost, but it was actually recovered 1000 years later! A palimpsest is defined as “a manuscript written on parchment that has another text written over it, leaving two (or more) layers of visible writing.” (NOVA, 2003).

Archimedes was considered the greatest mathematician in Greek history. His priceless (actually valued at approximately 2 million dollars at auction) palimpsest was traced by NOVA  (2003) and makes for an interesting story related to ancient text and the development of writing technologies. Here is an excerpt:

“circa 1000
A scribe working in Constantinople handwrites a copy of the Archimedes treatises, including their accompanying diagrams and calculations, onto parchment, which is assembled into a book.

circa 1200
A Christian monk handwrites prayers in Greek over the Archimedes text, turning the old mathematical text into a new prayer book. The book is now a palimpsest, a manuscript with a layer of text written over an earlier scraped- or washed-off text”. (NOVA, 2003)

I remembered that Richard Clement  (1997) wrote about the practice of scraping off still-wet ink in Medieval and Renaissance Book Production: Manuscript Books. It is interesting to see an actual example of a 1000 year old text that survived this process! The link has some great images and additional links you may be interested in.

By the way, I found this site by using the Librarian’s Internet Index. I hope it helps some classmates with their research. I also tried to hyperlink in this post, but my links led to a 404 Error message. Ah well, the old fashioned digital literacy method of “cut and paste into your browser ” will work for the links. I posted them below. Erin


Clement, R. (1997). Medieval and renaissance book production: Manuscript books. Available online 16, October, 2009, from

Librarian’s internet index. (2009). Available online 16, October, 2009, from

NOVA. (2003). Infinite secrets: The Archimede’s palimpsest. Available online 15, October, 2009 from

October 16, 2009   No Comments

New technology, old concept.

Nokia OLED Scroll Laptop

Nokia has developed a laptop called the OLED Scroll where the screen rolls up like a scroll.  You would unroll the touch-sensitive screen to use it. 

Check it out at:

October 13, 2009   8 Comments

Derrida and Writing

In a number of the readings for this course the philosopher Derrida has been mentioned, along his “graphocentric” view that writing is a more primary type of communication than speech. He is a difficult philosopher to understand, but I’ve studied his thought somewhat in the past and I’d like to try to clarify his ideas about writing as far as I understand them.

The background that Derrida was coming from, and reacting against, was structuralism. According to structuralism, words have their meaning by how they relate to other words in a whole system of language. Proponents of structuralism thus draw a distinction between language (the whole system that gives words their meaning) and speech (the things we actually say). The distinction is discussed by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in this comedy sketch

YouTube Preview Image

A related distinction made by structuralists was that between the signified and the signifier. The signified is the place a word takes in the whole system of language and the signifier is the spoken sound of the word or written mark of the word.

Derrida rejected the idea of a fixed system of language giving meaning to everything written and spoken, and rejected the idea that there is a signified that gives meaning to the signifier. He believed that language should be understood in terms of the signifiers only, which in turn are to be understood as dependent on acts of signifying. These acts of signifying have meaning, he thought, only in relation to all other acts of signifying. With new acts of signifying, these relations could change, and so meanings are never fixed but are open to change, their meaning being constantly “deferred”. His method of “deconstruction” is an attempt to change received meanings and received interpretations, using methods such as reversing the received view about what is important and what is unimportant in a text.

Derrida believed that the notion that speech is primary and writing secondary was based on the mistaken view that, with speech, the meaning of our words is something “present”. According to this view, the person who speaks has mastered the system of language to some extent and is an authority on what he or she means. For instance, when you speak to me I am able to respond to your questions and reply, “No, what I meant was…” The written word, in contrast, is something whose meaning is more elusive, for it depends on what the writer meant when he or she wrote it, and the writer may be absent and might even be dead when we read it.

Although he acknowledged that from a historical point of view speech appeared before writing, Derrida thought that writing revealed the nature of language more fully than speech did, for it reflected the way in which the meanings of what we say are not within our control and are constantly open to revision and reinterpretation.

The clearest introduction to Derrida’s views on writing that I have come across is in Richard Harland’s book Superstructuralism. You can see some of it here.

There’s also a movie about Derrida on google video, which is not too bad

October 11, 2009   No Comments

Reflections Modules 1 and 2

I am enjoying the content of the two courses I am taking this semester tremendously, both via readings and sharing by keen and engaged fellow-learners. Unfortunately, I have a sense of missing much since there is such a plethora of material and it rests in many different places, both within course materials/wikis/weblogs/webCT,  and via the excellent links to further reading and viewing.  As I read through the postings while catching up after the flu, I feel all the salient points have been presented in so many comprehensive ways—what else can I say that is even remotely witty or wise? That adds to the discussion in a meaningful, scholarly way?


 In our readings, we have explored the way humans transitioned from primary orality and adapted to new ways of putting pen to “paper”. That process took from 3500 BC to now. Very recently, text is becoming more plastic and functional by integrating hypertext, and news travels very fast by widespread social network collaboration. We are moving away from solo writer, and set in “stone” letters and words, to plastic text—textology is changing fast.


Postman in Technopoly presents a position of concern around new technologies.


In Brands’ Escaping the Digital Dark Age, the loss of digitized data is explored in detail. He admonishes all to sit up and take notice of this hidden risk.


The CBC commentary surrounding the digital universal library concept is a wandering exploration of the issues of copyright, and private corporation involvement. The Kelly article “Scan this Book” explores many similar themes as in the other readings about the universal digital library.

O’Donnell proposed in the Virtual Library piece that the idea is neither new nor golden.  He speaks of the historical aspects from The Great Library of Alexandria through the Memex in the ‘40s, and expresses concern that “infochaos” will be the only thing to emerge from the debacle of the dreamed universal digital library of the future.


In the video version of funeral oration of Julius Caesar, and in Phaedrus, we saw classic oratory in the rhetoric form, which was also exemplified in the Plato Iliad excerpt. The irony of the Plato oration is that the written word is the vehicle he uses to expound his theories about the downside of writing, and he proposed that nobody who had serious and important ideas would write them down—how ironic is that! The issue Plato raises of the relationship of memory with written word is revisited in modern times in the Visible Language article, Hypertext and the Art of Memory.


James O’Donnell in “From Papyrus to Cyberspace” explored the flip side of new technologies—the downside, when we do not know fully the effects until after implementation. He believes that unpredictable change and a less intimate community are hallmarks of the modern time.  Dr. James Engell feels the state of affairs is that education is already transformed by new technologies, and the generational divide is a big one. He emphasizes instability in business and in information storage as examples of how unclear the future direction is in these frontier times.


Lamb’s article “Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, ready or not” is a good ingress into the next section of the course where we deal with the connections between text and fluidity of the web-based text realm. His thoughts about the use of wikis in academics and otherwise were a refreshing introduction to “wikidom”, the new and evolving kingdom of wikis.

October 11, 2009   No Comments

This is interesting!

In my web travels I found this website. It is a program designed to reorganize words so they are easier for the visual learner to interpret and understand. Have a look!

October 9, 2009   2 Comments

Commentary 1: Instability of Text

It was difficult to choose one article to comment on, as several of the readings for Module 2 inter-weaved together so nicely. I read several together in one sitting and as I began the last article, the ideas suddenly began to synthesize. I was brought to alarm by The Instability of the Text, and the inevitable loss of information and knowledge. Perhaps a great part of the points raised in the readings are common sense, but it is so much more daunting to suddenly realize that a great part of our knowledge today is stored as a series of 0’s and 1’s. And just like a simple virus can completely wipe out a hard drive, something analogous could affect our network servers and delete everything that was stored on the server.

Language itself is ever-evolving. The Oxford English Dictionary documents these changes in the English language by showing various uses of each word with a variety of quotes from different periods of time. This evolution is also evidenced by the fact that reading Shakespeare can sometimes be like reading a whole different language.

Add to this the impermanence of the medium. In comparison to our ancestors’ stone engravings, our ink and paper manuscripts are easily destroyed—hardly permanent. In elementary school, a high interest novel such as the latest Harry Potter paperback cannot last very long before it requires a replacement. With digitization, vast volumes of books such as the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as encyclopedias can all be reduced to one DVD. O’Donnell notes that technology is constantly changing and machines become obsolete very quickly. It is obviously much easier for an archeologist to read a stone engraving than a small, shiny disk.

O’Donnell opens his article with a brief discussion regarding variations among copies of books from the same publisher, same edition. The abundance of multiple copies makes it a difficult task to ascertain reliability—which version is the truest to the author’s intentions? Even if we had all the text down pat, what about the formatting? The use or lack thereof could largely point to the meaning of the text to (i.e. shape poem).

The accessibility to the text is another issue. O’Donnell discusses various types of software used to open data files, but recognizes that some are more common than others (i.e. .pdf) but each also carry their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, some cannot be edited, others provide a certain type of encoding only.

In his article, Kelly describes a dream dating back to the great library at Alexandria, “to have in one place all knowledge, past and present. All books, all documents, all conceptual works, in all languages”, and argues that the Google Books initiative makes this dream seem possible. The only difference is, with digitization, the library is not only restricted to the elite, but becomes “truly democratic, offering every book to every person.” The archival of ‘all knowledge’ is a formidable feat, only possible through digitization with the technology that we have today. Scholars in developing countries can now have access to items that they previously would have needed to travel halfway across the world to get. Patients who want to learn more about their afflictions or the most recent research can access what was previously open to physicians only.

O’Donnell makes a strong case. Text cannot be permanent and reliable if we represent text digitally.

However, in light that language, and life itself is ever-changing, is it imperative that text be permanent?


Brand, S. (1999).  Escaping the Digital Dark Ages. Retrieved from

Kelly, K. (2006). Scan This Book! Retrieved from

O’Donnell, J. J.  The Virtual Library: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, J. J. (1998). Avatars of the World: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. 44-49.  Retrieved from

October 8, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 1: On Virtual Libraries

shelf browse

shelf browse

I was quietly amused upon discovering the “visual shelf” in the Library Catalogue section of my new school’s website, especially as this coincided with the readings on virtual libraries.  Aside from looking up books using a standard search of title, author, or topic, students and staff can browse the shelves either from the computer or the comfort of their own home, by simply sliding a box along the image of a shelf of books.  However, is this a virtual library by any means?  It may be designed to appeal to the computer-savvy nature of today’s child, yet the child still needs to move out of the virtual shelf into the actual school library in order to find the information they seek.

A simple definition for a virtual library is “the worldwide collection of online books, journals and articles available on the Internet.” (PCMAG)  O’Donnell’s definition is that it is a “vast, ideally universal collection of information and instantaneous access to that information wherever it physically resides.” (O’Donnell)   A more complex interpretation, quoted from Kaye Gapen, states that a virtual library is:

the concept of remote access to the contents and services of libraries and other information resources, combining an on-site collection of current and heavily used materials in both print and electronic form, with an electronic network which provides access to, and delivery from, external worldwide library and commercial information and knowledge sources. (Martell)

The simple definition, that of the collection of materials found on the Internet, is exactly that: too simplified.  Yet when one uses a search engine on “virtual libraries,” one finds a barrage of results that use this definition of a virtual library, most of them categorized by subject matter or educational institution.  The site that claims to be the “WWW Virtual Library” is simply a series of tiered, nested categories that eventually result in several collections of links. (WWWVL)  This example is in no way universal in its scope, as it is monitored by a small group of people who determine what should be included and what should not; nor does it even meet the simple definition of being the collection of materials found on the internet.

If a library is to be deemed a virtual library according to O’Donnell, then it should be ideally universal, vast, and accessible instantaneously.  O’Donnell himself recognizes that this is a fantasy that has roots at least as far back as “of the first major Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the so-called Septuagint.” (O’Donnell)  He goes further to state that the dream of the virtual library has not changed since this time, only that the “technical possibilities” have.  (O’Donnell)  However, such a library would be impossible to come to full fruition, because of the fact that, as technologies “advance,” the library itself would become obsolete, and a new creation would need to be included.  In addition, O’Donnell addresses the problem of the “ever-accumulating geometrically expanding heaps” of information that would accrue if this virtual library included a historical collection of everything from the past along with the current and future knowledge base.  (O’Donnell)

Gapen’s definition seems a little more realistic and a little more usable in today’s world.  Unlike O’Donnell, her definition allows for a sifting mechanism of sorts in that her virtual library is limited to “current and heavily used materials.” (Martell)  However, who determines what materials will be heavily used?  In other words, who determines what will be in this virtual library?  Gapen herself describes the virtual library as a “library metaphor for a societal control revolution,” (Martell) implying that some group somewhere is imposing their beliefs on the library consumers.

Needless to say, the meaning of the word virtual itself implies that a virtual library does not physically exist; it just appears to exist.  This is a paradox in itself, though; does that mean that the knowledge we gain from a virtual library is not actually knowledge – it just appears to be knowledge?  Perhaps the term virtual in the realm of academic information in a world of electronic technology needs to be challenged, as the answer to that question is most obviously “No.”

The current state of the Internet exacerbates the problems both O’Donnell’s and Gapen’s definitions of the virtual library in the sense that there is an overabundance of information and, as yet, no effective way of accessing  accurate information quickly and efficiently.  It is by far much easier and faster to find information than by the previous methods of the past, yet it is still far from perfect, and as O’Donnell suggests, once we get close to the ideal virtual library, new technology will be in place that will make that ideal obsolete.

Works Cited

Martell, C. (1999). Reaching into the Mist for the Elusive “Virtual” Thing. Journal of Academic Librarianship25(2), 132.

O’Donnell, J. J. (1994). The virtual library: an idea whose time has passed. Proceedings of the Third Symposium on Gateways, Gatekeepers, and Roles in the information Omniverse (Washington, D.C., United States). A. Okerson and D. Mogge, Eds. Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, 19-31. Retrieved October 2, 2009, from,2542,t=virtual+library&i=53926,00.asp

The World Wide Web Virtual Library. Retrieved October 2, 2009, from

October 7, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 1: An Observation of How Orality and Literacy Have Changed Interactions Between People

Technology has made significant impacts in oral and written communication and interaction. The difference can be observed between oral and literate cultures through the introduction and evolution of writing technologies. Ong (2002) posits that oral cultures developed mnemonic patterns to aid in memory retention of thought, while literacy forces the creation of grammatical rules and structured dialogue. The jump from orality to literacy would have been a challenge for the cultures wishing to preserve their traditions and thoughts in writing and yet, the knowledge to write and record information has enabled many cultures to pass down important pieces of knowledge to future generations.

Ong (2002) explains how, despite being a late development in human history, writing is a technology that has shaped and powered intellectual activity and that symbols are beyond a mere memory aide. As outlined by Ong, oral cultures had the challenge of retaining information in a particular manner, where, when written, the characteristics of oral speech become more evident with certain patterns of speech.  Given that oral cultures had the challenge of retaining information, does literacy require orality? Postman (1992) supports Thamus’ belief where “proper instruction and real knowledge must be communicated” and further argues that despite the prevalence of technology in the classroom, orality still has a place in the space for learning.

As writing technologies evolve, culture and society have the tendency to evolve toward the technology; thus, developing new ways to organize and structure knowledge (Ong, 2002) in order to communicate information and changing the way interactions take place. The construction of speech and the construction of text change depending on the technology. For instance, with the computer, the individual is permitted to delete or backspace any errors in speech or grammar and construct sentences in different ways with the assistance of automatic synonyms, thesaurus or dictionary usage. Before the computer, errors could not be so easily changed with the typewriter, whose ink would remain on the paper until the invention of white out. Tracking the changes to the original Word document with which this paper was composed would reveal the number of modifications and deletions – a feature of technology that cannot be characterized in orality because culture may note errors in speech but cannot effectively track where each error was made. In public speech, one can observe the changes in behaviour, the pauses, and the “umms” and “uhhs” of speech. This is also how the interaction differs from the norm.

With text messaging, the construction of information is often shortened, even more so than one would find with instant messaging. The abbreviated format of text to fit within a limited space has taught individuals to construct conversations differently; in a manner that would not have been so common 15 to 20 years ago.  The interaction between individuals changed since text messaging requires more of a tendency to decipher the abbreviated format. In a sense, text messaging uses some form of mnemonics in order to convey messages from one person to another. This seemingly new form of literacy, in some cases, requires more abstract thinking and as Postman (2002) suggests, may require orality to communicate the true message, which may occur in the form of a phone call.

Learning materials presented in shorter formats becomes more important, particularly for educational technologies like mobile learning, where technologies such as netbooks and mobile phones are utilized for classroom learning. Postman (1992) posits there is a need for an increased understanding of the efficiency of the computer as a teaching tool and how it changes the learning processes. With mobile technologies, the interaction could be limited by abbreviated formats, as seen with text messaging, and in some cases, may not be an effective form of learning for some students. Despite the invention of newer technologies, orality often helps clarify thought processes, concepts and information. While the student can absorb knowledge on literacy alone, orality can assist in the retention of information.

The complexity of written communication can be taken a level further with the basis of writing – pictograms – images that can be recognized and deciphered by most individuals. Gelb  (in ETEC 540) argues that limited writing systems like international traffic signs avoid language and can yet be deciphered by illiterates or speakers of other languages. Although most traffic signs can be clear, some do require translation for the meaning to be clear, whether the translation is made orally or through writing. Ong (2002) supports the notion that codes need a translation that goes beyond pictures, “either in words or in a total human context, humanly understood” (p. 83).

While writing and writing technologies have evolved and changed the way interactions and communication take place, one thing has not changed: being able to find the most basic way to communicate to individuals illiterate of other languages – a characteristic that orality cannot communicate to individuals who are unfamiliar with a language. Thamus feared that writing would be a burden to society, but its advantages outweigh the disadvantages (in Postman, 2002).


Gelb, I. J. (2009). Module 2: From Orality to Literacy. In ETEC 540 – Text Technologies: The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing. Retrieved October 4, 2009 from

Ong, W. J. (2002). Orality and Literacy. London: Routledge.

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

October 6, 2009   2 Comments

Universal Library

I chose to write about the universal library because this topic has been close to my heart since I was 12 years old.  My biggest dream was to read all the books in the world in all the languages in the world.  Many of my friends were eager to point out how ridiculous that dream was – after all I only spoke Ukrainian and Russian and a bit of Polish and German – the basics I learned from my Grandmother.  I would not let these naysayers dissuade me from my dreams.  How difficult could it be to get a foreign book in translation?  By then I had already read all of Dumas’ adventures of the Three Musketeers and Jane Eyre as well as other classical writers.  Some books were typed on a typewriter and shared among trusted friends and you learned early on that those books were not to be talked about with people who you did not implicitly trust.

O’Donnell asserts that “[the] main features of this vision are a vast, ideally universal collection of information and instantaneous access to that information wherever it physically resides.”  This idea appeals to me tremendously I would love to be able to have access to all of Tolstoy’s works and be able to read my favorite passages whenever I like without having to dig through boxes or travel to the library.  This is not to say that I would not rather have a book in my hand but since it is not easy to find some books in their original language, especially the rare first editions, I would love to see a copy on line.  O’Donnell characterizes this as a

The dream today is weighed down with silicon chips, keyboards, screens, headsets, and other cumbersome equipment — but someday a dream of say telepathic access will make today’s imaginings suddenly as outmoded as a daisy-wheel printer.

It may be so, but where would we be without our imaginings?  The idea of a virtual library is a noble one.  As Hillis points out in the Brand article,” we are now in a period that may be a maddening blank to future historians–a Dark Age–because nearly all of our art, science, news, and other records are being created and stored on media that we know can’t outlast even our own lifetimes.”  True as this may be, should we stop all scanning projects because we are worried about being able to retrieve data.

I will tell you this- when I was doing the readings, and exploring the virtual libraries, I found books of songs and stories that my Grandmother sang and told me when I was a child.  What a gift from people who these books probably meant nothing to!  Where Stewart Brand prophesizes, “there has never been a time of such drastic and irretrievable information loss as right now” and blames the computer industry’s production schedule for the rapid advancement of standards, it must be pointed out – since the process of standardization really took hold, we have seen technologies last many years.  HTML is nearly twenty years old.(Wiki)  The JPEG picture format was defined as a standard in 1992. (Wiki)  The Portable Document Format (aka PDF) is over sixteen years old (Wiki) and is now an open standard.  And a file created with the first version of these standards can still be read on computers today.  He remarks “civilization time is in centuries” but how many of us can understand the earliest books in the English language?  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or even the works of William Shakespeare are only a few hundred years old, but they seem to be an entirely different language!

While it is true that the media will probably not outlast our lifetimes, I’m sure that was apparent to the authors of medieval manuscripts.  However – they did not stop copying out illuminated sheets of manuscript simply because they might not survive a fire.  The fires in Alexandria marked a huge blow to the body of knowledge of the time – but one fire in one city will not wipe out a universal library.  There will be backup to tapes, redundant hard drives, and redundant locations to store data.  Sure, if the power goes off that information will just sit there – but think about how it sits there.  Each hard drive is created as a sealed environment and the data could well be readable in 100 years.  The motor that drives the plates inside the drive may have failed, but the platters and the data they contain, could last a very long time.  Under ideal conditions, to be sure – but what book left outside on the table will last beyond the year?  The reason books have been such an efficient method of passing information across the ages isn’t because they are inherently better.  There have simply been so many of them written that a few were bound to make it.  Really, the body of knowledge we inherited from three hundred to two thousand years ago is remarkably small.  I do not know if a universal library will work better for longevity, but it will give more people access to books they might never have otherwise seen.  I do not advocate the end of all print media – it is good to have an alternative to the electronic versions, but I think the electronic versions will become the ones that people make use of.


Brand, S. (1999).  Escaping the Digital Dark Ages. Retrieved from

Kelly, K. (2006). Scan This Book! Retrieved from

O’Donnell, J. J.  The Virtual Library: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, J. J. (1998). Avatars of the World: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. 44-49.  Retrieved from

October 6, 2009   1 Comment

Reflecting on Spaces in Modules 1 and 2….

I’d like to take some time to reflect on our spaces in ETEC 540. During Module 1, we were introduced to our Vista course space (forums, mail, chat…), Flickr and our Community Weblog. During Module 2 we added to our Orality and Literacy wiki pages and we were encouraged to create pages. We also have our Textology Weblog, which I’ve commented on, but haven’t posted to yet. So far so good, but I have to remind myself this is my 9th MET course. I am now fairly literate in reading and writing in these new spaces. This is a long way away from my 2007 self, who was a little lost in ETEC 510.

In ETEC 510 we had to navigate Vista (tricky your first time!) and edit a class wiki (what’s a wiki?) and I was petrified! I spent one hour with our in-school “techie” just learning to post to the wiki and I remember my heart racing as I thought about what I might do “wrong”. Later MET classes introduced me to social bookmarking, creating my own wiki (!), creating my own Moodle (!!) and creating my own blog (!!!). It was a sharp learning curve for someone who read the class outlines concerning MET technology know-how and thought “Yes, I can e-mail with attachments, I’ll be fine!”  🙂

I can’t believe how quickly I have improved my literacy! I can use a WYSIWYG editor in a relaxed manner, a tool which once frightened me with all its buttons and options. I admit, I did have a little palpitation during my ETEC 540 wiki edit, but I knew I could revert to the old page if something went terribly wrong. Another “new spaces” skill!

I know I am at the beginning of understanding this development from an academic point of view. However, I feel that the various readings in 540 relate to my experience. Two years ago I was literate, but not digitally literate. Now I can  draw parallels between  digital literacy and orality, specifically in knowledge community development and creating a sense of  a cohesive “group”. Now I can navigate new spaces of literacy. Now I know these spaces exist and there are other people in them!

I just wanted to share my growth with the class because somebody out there is new to these writing and reading spaces. I want them to know we’ve all been there and by Module 3, navigating these spaces will be old hat.  I’m left wondering, along with you no doubt, what the next big literacy space will be.

I’ll leave you with a great clip “Learning to Change-Changing to Learn” concerning K-12 students and teachers and the shift from traditional reading and writing spaces to the changing spaces we’re being exposed to in ETEC 540 . My favourite quote: “We have a classroom system when we could have a community system”. Enjoy!

 See you in the forums, or the wiki, or the blog, or on delicious or Flickr….Erin

October 6, 2009   1 Comment

Time to set aside childish uses of technology

From Ong and his critics to O’Donnell, Brand, Kelley and Grafton grappling with some of the more pressing concerns of the digital era (storage, digitization of books and access to same, respectively)—Module 2 covered a lot of ground!  I particularly enjoyed Kelley’s discussion of the economic aspects of digitization (shipping books to China for scanning, for example), and contrasting of business models (a much under-rated influence) as the world of copyright and protected copies gives way—not without much wailing and gnashing of teeth—to the age of free (though not worthless—an important distinction) digital copies.  Kelley is correct: “The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology” (2006, p. 13).

The question of how this progression of technologies has and will continue to modify reading and writing and thus education is not just at the centre of this module, but of the course.  I couldn’t help, however, relating this discussion to one in which I have been engaged for some time now concerning the role of information and communication technologies (computers, cell phones, smart phones, social networking applications, etc.) in the lives and learning of our students.  As a secondary teacher, I tend to think of that age group first in this regard, particularly since I believe it’s still the age (13-18) of most rapid adoption and most intense use.  Having said that, I am regularly told of middle schoolers developing cell phone and Facebook habits to rival those of their older contemporaries, and undergrads still inhabiting the high school world of more than a thousand text messages a day and religious, narcissistic Facebook updating.

This particular facet of technology in schools: the uses it is put to by teens and the effect it has on their learning, was the focus of our school pro-d Sept. 25—which I inadvertently became involved in organizing.  I’m not on the pro-d committee, but as the teacher-librarian responsible for purchasing, I was asked to order 80 copies of the book The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future —one for each member of the teaching staff.  They arrived on the last day of school in June and were distributed for summer reading. Then last month I was again recruited to set up a Skype discussion with the author, Mark Bauerlein, an Emory University professor.  Bauerlein acknowledges that the title is a provocation and adds that he is not a technophobe.  One of his main arguments is that while there is clearly tremendous power in the current technologies of reading and writing that we employ (email, databases, online access to thousands of books and newspapers, blogs, wikis, etc.), and we would certainly not want to give them up, the uses to which teens put them as a result of their developmental stage locks them into a kind of adolescent feedback loop.  This narrow preoccupation unnaturally extends adolescence (mentally, at least) to the detriment of acquiring knowledge and maturity—which are, after all, also important functions of secondary and post-secondary education.  Bauerlein opened our 67-minute pro-d Skype session with a 15-minute summary of his thesis, and then fielded questions from teachers.  He was challenged as often as he was lauded, but I must admit, I find his argument persuasive an in accordance with my observations and those of many of my colleagues.  I have been teaching secondary full-time for a decade now, so I experienced roughly five years of little to no cell phone and Facebook penetration before the explosion in their use of the last five years.  Again, I think Bauerlein is correct to worry about the quality of communication texting and the Facebook Bathroom Wall promote as well as the 24/7 intrusion of adolescent concerns (What are my friends doing? Where are we meeting tomorrow? Who said what about whom?) that these technologies permit.  The mental space and even quiescence that used to exist when teens were alone at home in their rooms reading or doing homework no longer exists thanks to texting and Facebook.  Bauerlein suggests that the current technologies allow teens to become far too self-referential and this crowds out the (previously) natural expansion of interests to less egocentric concerns.  Of course, there is still the top 10 percent who will use ICTs to organize peace rallies and email pictures of a toxic spill to the traditional media (after starting a Facebook and Twitter group on the topic).  It’s the other 90 percent he worries about—and I agree.  In any case, coming out of this pro-d dialogue, I may have come off a little more curmudgeonly than usual over in the Orality and Literacy discussion where I chimed in with some of these musings in a thread started by Drew. I’ll see if I can attach an excerpt of the Skype discussion with Bauerlein.  (He gave me permission to record the exchange.)

Bauerlein excerpt (11 min.)

Note: Bauerlein does allow that most of the studies in his book are American and his observations are about U.S. teens.  I would submit, however, that based on similar Canadian studies I have seen, the behaviour of Canadian teens is not significantly different where ICT use is concerned.


 Bauerlein, M. (2008). The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.  New York:  Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Kelley, K. (16 May 2006). Scan This Book! New York Times.

October 5, 2009   2 Comments

Why Teachers Need to Understand the Differences Between Oral and Literate Cultures.

Commentary 1

Take any classroom in a large urban center in Canada and it is possible to find a first nations learner sitting next to someone from Africa, who is sitting behind someone from India, who is across from someone who is from England. Although this class is rich in cultural diversity, it presents challenges meeting the needs of all the learners. One of the differences that teachers may find in their classes is one of oral-literate cultures. Understanding these differences and knowing how to build on their strengths will help educators to provide relevant and meaningful experiences for their students.

The understanding of the differences between the non-literate and literate cultures has long been of interest to many scholars. In his essay “Biases of the Ear and the Eye” David Chandler (2009) defines the “Great Divide” theories as theories that “tend to suggest radical, deep and basic differences between modes of thinking in non-literate and literate societies.” Read ‘simple versus advanced.’ Chandler goes on to explain that alternatives to the Great Divide theories are the “Continuity” theories. These theories hold that there is not a radical difference in the modes of thinking in non-literate and literate societies, but rather a continuum of thinking. It is recognized that differences in expression and behavior exist, but not to the extremes that great divide theorists would have one believe. Chandler refers to Peter Denny’s comment that “ all human beings are capable of rationality, logic, generalization, abstraction, theorizing, intentionality, causal thinking, classification, explanation and originality.” He goes on to say that we can find greater cultural differences between two literate cultures or two non-literate cultures. He cautions that it is dangerous to presume that non-literate societies are all the same as there can be great variations from society to society or even with-in a single society. One of the books that Chandler recommends reading “which offer(s) excellent correctives to the wild generalizations “ is Literacy and orality, by Ruth Finnegan (1988) who says that it is important to look closely at the uses of orality and literacy, to look for patterns and differences and through this we will avoid making generalizations about poorly understood uses of orality and literacy.

Chandler’s ‘continuum’ of orality and literacy can be found in many of our classrooms today. In order to meet the needs of our different learners we must incorporate cultural sensitivity in the class. Teaching from a culturally sensitive perspective is not just about teaching different cultural holidays, foods and dress. It is about understanding, and honoring the ways of learning and knowing of these different perspectives along the continuum. In his address “How to eradicate illiteracy without eradicating illiterates “to UNESCO, Munir Fasheh tells the story of his illiterate mother who was a seamstress. One day after many years of believing that he should “fix” her, making her literate, he saw her take many pieces of cloth and form it into “ a new and beautiful whole”. It was through the act of creating clothing for her customers that he saw her as a wise and knowing person. He recognized that she knew math, maybe in a different way than he knew math, but she knew it. Fasheh says that we need to “ become aware of the diversity of ways of learning, knowing, living, perceiving, and expressing – and that such ways cannot be compared along linear measures.” (Fasheh, 2002)

Fasheh shares his fear that our world places too much emphasis on reading and writing. This fear is supported by Havelock (1991) who says that our education system places primary importance on quickly learning to read and write. He challenges us to consider our “oral inheritance” as well. Fasheh cautions “ We need to look not only at what literacy adds … but also at what it subtracts or makes invisible.” (Fasheh, 2002)

Constructivism is a current and popular learning theory that holds that learners generate knowledge and meaning through their life experiences. This theory recognizes that the cultural background of the learner plays a significant role in the learners understanding of the world. Wertch (1997) tells us that it is crucial that we recognize and honour the learner’s cultural background as this background will help to shape and create the understanding that the learner constructs. If we recognize that some learners come from an oral culture we can use that information and the strengths of learning in an oral culture to provide more appropriate learning opportunities. Croft (2002) in her article Singing under a tree: does oral culture help lower primary teachers be learner-centered? suggests that learner-centered strategies (an important feature of constructivist teaching) that are developed in literate cultures may not be relevant in teaching in an oral based culture. She suggests that the pedagogies used should be developed from the local context. If the learners come from a primarily oral-based culture, use the strengths of that oral culture. Havelock (1991) even suggests that orality is really a part of all of us. “Oral inheritance is as much a part of us as the ability to walk upright.” (p.21) and that all class rooms should encourage singing, dancing and recitations.

Understanding the differences between oral and literate cultures is important, not to compare, but to build on that understanding. Chandler reminds us that that social context with which we use the specific medium is really what is most important, not that one is better than the other. Honoring and celebrating both mediums will make our classrooms places of tolerance where no one is invisible.


Chandler, D. (2009). Biases of the Ear and the Eye. Retrieved from retrieved Oct.4, 2009
Croft, A. (2002). Singing under a tree: does oral culture help lower primary teachers be learner-centred? Internatinal Journal of Educational Development , 22, 321-337.
Fasheh, M. (2002). How to iradicate Illiteracy without iradicating Illiterates. For the UNESCO round table on “Literacy As Freedom.” On the occasion of The International Literacy Day 9-10 September 2002, UNESCO, Paris. Paris.
Havelock, E. (1991). The oral-literature equation : a formula for the modern mind. In D. &. Olson, Literacy and Orality (pp. 11-27). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wertsch, J. (1988). Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind. Harvard University Press.

Cultural Relevance

October 5, 2009   3 Comments

Verba Volant Scripta Manent

Verba Volant Scripta Manent 

(Lat. “spoken words fly away, written words remain” )

            In describing the qualities of sound, Ong (2002) points out to its evanescent nature as well as its capability of surrounding the speaker and immersing him/her in the center (p.71). In primary oral cultures this immersion affected man’s perception of the world and consequently generated an ego-centric approach in its interactions with it. On the other hand, spoken words have the power of binding together the speaker and the audience, uniting them in the “interiorizing force of the oral word” (p.74).

             In both Western and Eastern cultures, bards used to (and still continue to do in some parts) travel and recite or sing poems and personae tell stories to sustain the cultural heritage in a society. This helped build a “communal soul” (Ong 2002) that caused them to react to situations in a collectivist nature rather than an individualist’. The bards used to rely on their memory for recitation, but made slight modifications depending on the mood and receptiveness of the audience.

             As natural as the need to communicate orally with others, man’s desire to leave a permanent artifact that would withstand time led him to create a “sequencing of standardized symbols in order to graphically reproduce human speech, thought or other things in part or whole” (Fischer, 2001). This definition incorporates the first varied forms of bone and stone markings dating back to 100,000 years that point out to purposeful engraving as a form of writing, As mankind developed higher level thinking and artistic skills, he began to create more sophisticated artifacts. Cuneiform writing – which has been used as earliest as 3500 BC by the Sumerians and then the Assyrians in Mesopotamia grew out not only of the need to record business transactions, but also to spread the “word of wisdom” through epics, myths and proverbs (Kramer, 1961).  

            Ong (2002) describes how when an alphabetical or other script enters into a particular society, it is looked upon with skepticism and even regarded as dangerous. Even nowadays, book burning is not an uncommon practice in parts of the world governed by totalitarian regimes. If written words cannot defend themselves because they are unreal, as Plato has Socrates declare in Phaedrus, then why is there such intolerance for them?

             There is no doubt that writing leaves a permanent mark in time when sound vanishes into air just like thoughts that flicker in a human’s brain do. Writing is indeed “the most important invention that has transformed human consciousness” (Ong, 2002).


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

Kramer, S.N. (1961). Sumerian Mythology: A study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C. [Rev. ed.]. Retrieved from

 Fischer, S.R. (2001). A History of Writing. Retrieved from






October 5, 2009   1 Comment