Chapter 2 in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print
In the opening chapters of Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, the idea of remediation begins to take hold. Bolter(2001), in Chapter Two, discusses writing as technology, taking up where Ong (1982) leaves off in his text, Literacy and Orality, and outlines the remediation of print from orality through to the computer.
The idea of writing as material or economic is brought forth in Chapter Two. In order to show that the pen and paper are also technology Bolter writes, “the production of today’s pens and paper also require a sophisticated manufacturing process.” (Bolter, 2001, p.17). Here, Bolter writes about print as a material and economy, and, in turn, creating the question of using writing to make money. Writing, according to Bolter (2001) is the remediation of orality. Speech in the western world is free and if writing is its remediation, it would seem that writing should be free as well; however, Bolter points out, that writing is far from orality as there is an economy surrounding writing. Bolter does acknowledge that remediated things are different from the original product, but writing seems to hold a very different purpose than orality. If we adhere to Marshal McLuhan’s (1967) assertions that the medium is the message, than it would reason that writing, even with a pen, is an economic activity, unlike orality. This is true with all print technologies, from the printing press to the computer. Therefore, writing is not merely communication, it is also closely tied with making money- a function of economy.
This begs the question of who is driving these changes in print, especially today, when every year there is new word processing software? Does the natural evolution of print create these changes; is it deterministic? Or would it be a company like Microsoft who sees that writing is not merely communication, it is money; is it a fundamental way of our culture to perpetuate our consumer society? How do the powers that drive the change effect the way we write? These questions are only to be answered by time.
Print is remediated by orality according to Bolter, who writes “they speak, as they write, in a variety of styles and levels, and they often structure their speech as they do their writing in talking in sentences and even paragraphs” (Bolter, 2001, p. 16). Ong wrote that oral societies spoke formulaically in order to preserve memory. This formula was obviously carried over from speech to writing as Ong demonstrates with both Genesis in the Bible and Homer’s poems (Ong, 1892, Ch. 3). This formula would have carried a speech pattern, like all other forms of oral speech, just as writing carries a pattern. Therefore, grammar is remediated from orality to print. It stands to reason that if oral people spoke using grammar structures without ever writing them down, grammar teachers could benefit from the study of orality and how speech formulas were transmitted from one individual to another or to one culture to another. As Bolter and Ong demonstrate, people are capable of creating complex formulaic speech without writing.
Bolter’s view of remediation of print or many other aspects of communication creates a view that nothing has changed to the extent people might think it has. If writing is the remediation of orality and print is the remediation of writing and the word processor is the remediation of print, than somewhere there have been constraints. In the age of technology, it is evident that people often get excited about the possibilities of the ideas of new technologies, but, as Bolter points out, we are just changing the old way in a minute manner. Many aspects of the necessity of remediation are evident, such as ease of use, but it seems our preconceptions about the previous technology are constraining what we can do with that technology. If the computer were invented just as writing was, would our computer screen really just look like a piece of paper? Could it be that a piece of paper has created a version of word that is constrained because that is what we know, so we use it? There is a movie trailer for “The God’s Must be Crazy” (2009) where a tribe in Africa, who do not have much connection with the outside world, get a hold of an empty bottle of Coca-Cola and use it as a pestle, a way to crack a coconut, and a tool to dye cloth; many ways in which most people would not think to use a Coke bottle. These people did not have a preconceived notion of what the bottle was used for and found multiple uses for it.
Bolter’s observations of remediation also brings about ideas that we know what something is used for and therefore are less able to think “outside the box.” We could find many more uses for technology if it were not remediated from something familiar.
“One medium sets out to remediate another, it does so by claiming to do a better job” (Bolter, 2001, p. 26). Bolter’s conclusion for this chapter takes on a new message when you look at through the eyes of economy and the constrictions of remediation. The computer does do a better job than a typewriter, but it also costs more money and has the ability to change the economic message. The new medium might do a better job but is still constrained by the old medium and has the potential to do a better job. Remediation creates new messages that are still constrained by the past.
Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN: 0-8058-2919-9
McLuhan, M. (1967). The medium is the message. NEA Journal, 56(7), 24-27.
Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
20th Century Fox (2009, October 4) The God’s Must be Crazy. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GorHLQ-jLRQ
The Picture was retrieved from here