Thoughts on Text

“The printed word (which is always separated from context) has been represented by Western thinkers as a more accurate representation of reality than the spoken word, which is dependent upon context and interpersonal accountability.”

This quote is from C.A. Bowers writing about technology and indigenous peoples. It is relevant in this context when we consider the meaning of the word “text” as it evolved through the Middle Ages and gained an authoritative quality that must mystify people in non-literate cultures. Bowers frames his discussion in the context of the marginalization of indigenous cultures but his point is broader than that.
Walter Ong observed this as well, in noting that the written word is “context-free” discourse, which cannot be directly challenged as can oral speech.
What is interesting currently, is the more dynamic texting and blogging formats we see now where text-based dialogue is much more fluid and interactive. Even in reporting and scholarly contexts, authors may be expected to respond to questions and challenges from readers. As a result, delivery of text picks up some real-time characteristics, which may change its standing.
I think we are already seeing a diminishment of the authority of “text” due to emerging technology. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

Bowers, C.A. et al. (2000). “Native people and the challenge of computers: Reservation schools, individualism, and Consumerism,” American Indian 24(2), 182-199.
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World. London: Routledge

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